A Summer of Celebrations 夏祭り
Five matsuri not to be missed!
Among the thousands of festivals taking place in the summer in the archipelago, Japan Experience recommends the 5 most famous and impressive.
Awa Odori, the "Crazy Dance"
This festival, the pride of Tokushima city (Shikoku), is part of the Obon ritual intended to welcome the spirits of the dead. Every night from August 12th to 15th, 100,000 dancers dressed in yukata (light cotton kimono) and straw hats parade and dance in the streets of the city to the beat of traditional instruments such as shamisen, drums, and flutes. The chorus of their song, Yoshikono, goes "The crazy person who dances and the crazy person who watches are both crazy, so why not dance?" But be careful, plans for attending this "crazy dance" should be organised months in advance: Tokushima is taken over by more than 500 000 tourists.
Nebuta Matsuri, floats and lights
This is the biggest festival in the north of the country! Aomori is the traditional heart of the Tohoku region, where it snows 9 months a year. Giant paper floats are constructed, decorated, and prepared for a parade during the summer, from August 2nd to 7th. Thousands of dancers jump around and shout "rassera" before the eyes of hundreds of thousands of tourists, and it is particularly once night falls that Nebuta comes alive with shining floats, a thousand lanterns, and fireworks. Not to be confused with the Neputa Matsuri with giant fans in the nearby town of Hirosaki from August 1st to 7th.
Gion Matsuri, the star of Kyoto
Unmissable, indispensable, and colorful: Welcome to Yasaka Shrine for the Gion Matsuri! It is said that Kyoto began to celebrate this in 869, to fight against an epidemic of the plague that ravaged the city. Extremely busy and lively, it draws hundreds of thousands of tourists who enjoy a drink at night parties on the evenings of the 14th, 15th and 16th of July... but without going overboard, as the next day (17th) is the festival's highlight: a parade of floats, richly decorated, up to 12 meters high and weighing up to 12 tons! Each represents a district or corporation (there are 32 in total) of the former imperial capital. And, on the top of the floats, musicians play the melodies of the Gion Matsuri.
Tenjin Matsuri, shining river
The Tenjin Matsuri is 1,000 years old and is listed as the largest aquatic festival in the world. It is held in Osaka, at Tenmangû Shrine, where thousands gather in honor of Tenjin, the god of the studies and the arts. Usually busy anyway, Osaka explodes on the 24th and 25th of July! 3,000 people dressed in the style of the 8th-12th century imperial court meet and parade carrying mikoshi or portable shrines on their shoulders. The procession continues till dusk, when hundreds of boats float on the Dojima River, lit by hundreds of lanterns whose reflection in the water is truly magical. After a huge fireworks show, onlookers return to Tenmangû with the mikoshi and render a final homage to the deity, before a well deserved rest.
Mitama, the lanterns of Yasukuni
From July 13th to 16th, the Mitama Matsuri is held at Yasukuni Jinja in Tokyo. During these four days, the streets of Yasukuni are lit by 20,000 lanters from across the country and the atmosphere is especially festive! The Mitama Matsuri honors the souls of dead Japanese soldiers, and has been held since 1853. Between tribute parades and float ceremonies, Mitama is also an opportunity to attend martial arts demonstrations, hear the koto (a Japanese zither), see >traditional Noh theater, and of course to try the best summer recipes from food stalls around the sanctuary. And the dresscode: a yukata is compulsory!