5 Must-See Japanese Festivals This Month
The Japanese calendar is filled with festivals all year round, whether it’s for a religious ceremony, to ward off evil spirits or to celebrate a musical instrument, in Japan there’s a festival for everything! Despite there being festivals every month of the year, July is one of the busiest months for Japanese festivals. Some of the greatest, oldest and most extravagant Japanese festivals take place in the month of July, so if you’re heading to Japan this month, here’s a list of the best festivals which are not to be missed!
Hakata Gion Yamakasa
The Hakata Gion Yamakas (博多祇園山笠)is believed to be over 770 years old and is deemed one of the most interesting festivals in the Japanese calendar. This two week festival is centred around the Kushida Jinja shrine in Fukuoka and is visited by over 1 million spectators each year.
Throughout the festival period there are many highly decorated and extravagant floats which are paraded through the streets. These floats are decorated with samurai and anime characters and are extremely impressive to see. The floats are divided into two groups, the Kakiyama and the Kazariyama. The Kakiyama are the smaller floats which are carried throughout the festival, these floats can be up to 5 meters in height and one tonne in weight! The Kakiyama floats can reach up to 15 meters in height, these floats used to be carried but due to the introduction of power lines, they now remain stationary and you can find them dotted around the city.
In the early hours of July 15th, seven teams of men (one team from each district of Fukuoka) race the smaller Kakiyama floats throughout the city dressed in nothing but loincloths. The race is 5k long and tests strength, stamina and teamwork. Despite the early start, thousands of visitors head down to the race and line the streets to support the teams. It should be noted that the floats used do not have wheels, but are dragged through the streets and with a weight of around a tonne, it is quite the spectacle!
This month long festival is one of the largest and most historical events in the Japanese calendar. Dating back to the early Heian period (794-1185), this festival is thought to ward off spirits and to protect Kyoto from bad omens such as floors, fires and earthquakes. The first festival was held in order to protect the Kyoto citizens from a series of plagues which were sweeping the nation.
There are many events which take place during the Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) but the most notable is the wide array of decorative floats. There are 32 floats in total throughout the festival which can be placed into two categories, the yama and the hoko. The yama floats depict scenes from Chinese and Japanese history and mythology. The hoko floats are large two-storied which are highly decorated and have musicians playing various instruments on the second tier. Hoko floats can weigh up to 12 tonnes and it takes roughly 50 men to pull each float.
Other events which take place during the Gion Matsuri include a traditional tea ceremony, the ancient court dance, a flower umbrella procession and a welcoming lanterns ceremony. Although the initial purpose of the ceremony was to ward off evil spirits, as time has progressed the festival now also celebrates skills and talents from the Japanese community.
Nachi-no Ōgi Matsuri
Nachi Falls and Kumano Nachi Taisha
The Nachi-no- Ōgi Matsuri, also known as the Nachi Fire Festival is one of the three largest fire festivals in Japan. This festival is a Shinto ritual which is celebrated at the Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine located at the base of Japan’s tallest waterfall, Nachio-no-Otaki. The festival is believed to be over 1,500 years old and is held to welcome the Kumano gods home.
The ritual consists of 12 vermillion portable shrines, which are decorated with mirrors and ogi fans, and 12 huge pine torches being carried to the Nachi Falls in order to welcome the 12 gods home. There are 12 portable shrines and 12 pine torches to represent the 12 gods and to also represent each month of the year.
The large pine torches are carried up and down the steps of the shrine whilst people are chanting and giving out loud cries as to purify the area for the return of the gods. Once the area has been purified the torches are placed alongside the portable shrines which then face the Nachi falls and the final ritual is performed which consists of a prayer for the power of the gods of the waterfall to fill the air and a traditional rice harvest song.
Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture
The Miyajima Kangen-sai (宮島管絃祭) is centered around the classical court music of Kangen. Kangen is played using nine instruments; three types of stringed instrument (wagon, biwa, koto), three types of drums (kakko, taiko, shoko), and three types of flutes (sho, hichiriki, ryuteki).
This festival is thought to date as far back as the 12th
century where kangen used to be played as a form of entertainment for the aristocracy. The Heike warlord Taira-no-kiyomori adopted this form of entertainment and requested that it was no longer to be used as entertainment but to be used as a Shinto ritual. The Shinto ritual consisted of decorated boats transporting female deities who were within portable shrines between the Itsukushima Shrine and the land.
To this day, the Shinto ritual is still the focal point of the Miyajima Kangen-sai. The whole ritual can last the whole afternoon until midnight and is known as one of the top three floating festivals in Japan. During the ceremony large boats knowns as goza-bune travel between the Itsukushima Shrine and the tori gate whilst ceremonial kangen music is played. To round of the ceremony there is a lantern parade in the evening where spectators can participate.
Are you travelling to Japan this summer and plan on visiting one of these festivals? Comment below as we'd love to hear more about your adventures.
Enjoy this post? Follow The Japanese Shop on Facebook
for regular updates and to learn more amazing facts about Japanese Culture and Lifestyle. Alternatively, browse our extensive range of authentic Japanese gifts
on our website
along with hundreds of accessories