10 Japan Summer Festivals to Experience At Least Once

10 Summer Festivals in Japan You Have to Experience At Least Once

Here’s to an unforgettable summertime!

Summer is the awaited season loved by mortals around the world. So, suppose you’re facing the annual problem for our generation — finding a good way to spend it. In that case, Japan and its summer festivals (or matsuri, as the locals call it) are ready to fill your summer breaks with the most exciting activities yet! 

From lively parades and magnificent hanabi (fireworks) to exuberant musical performances, there’s always something for everyone! Read on to learn more about these 12 Japan summer festivals you should definitely add to your bucket list:

Also read: 15 Best Japan Theme Parks and Amusement Parks for a Fun Time

Must-see matsuri to fuel up your summer vacation

1. Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri is probably the best Kyoto summer festival you’ll ever attend. Annually held in Yasaka Shrine, the festival dates back to its history in 869, when Emperor Seiwa organised a special celebration to protect Kyoto from the plague. The festivity that is said to honour the gods last for the entire month of July. 

Expect lively street celebrations, parades with gorgeous lanterns and floats, and a tonne of tasty food to try. The main procession, Yamaboko Junko, happens on the morning of July 17th and the three evenings before the date. 

portable shrines and lantern from gion matsuri japan summer festivals

Gion parade (left), Yoiyama procession (right) | Image credit: gyro via Canva Pro

FYI, there will be two types of floats whereby the smaller ones are called yama, and the bigger ones (that can get up to 25m in height) are known as hoko. Aside from the elaborate floats, you can also witness traditional music and performances as well as geiko and maiko in traditional Japanese costumes!

Also read: 10 Kyoto Historical Sites That Will Take You Back to Ancient Japan 

2. Nebuta Matsuri

Nebuta matsuri japan summer festivals warrior lantern

Giant warrior lanterns | Image credit: shihina via Canva Pro

When we talk about must-experience Japan summer festivals, Nebuta Matsuri will always make it to the list. Held at the start of August in Aomori Prefecture each year, this festival is famous for showcasing magnificent giant lanterns.

warrior and tengu lantern at nebuta matsuri japan summer festivals

Warrior lantern (left), tengu lantern (right) | Image credit: shihina via Canva Pro

What’s so special about these lanterns, you ask? Well, they are made of washi (traditional Japanese paper), which is delicate to touch but generally tougher than the normal paper made from wood pulp. Meanwhile, the designs are inspired by gods, warriors, kabuki actors, mythological creatures, and even TV celebrities. And some can take over a year to construct!

Along with the vibrant floats are teams of taiko drummers, flute and cymbal players, and hundreds of dancers. Psst, you can join the skip-like dance if you rent any traditional haneto costumes readily available across local shops around the town!

3. Tenjin Matsuri

tenjin matsuri boat procession japan summer festivals

Tenjin Matsuri’s water procession | Image credit: wolf4max 

To watch both land and river procession combined, Tenjin Matsuri offers just that. This festival takes place in Osaka and is held annually on the 24th and 25th of July. The celebration’s history dates back to 951 A.D. to commemorate the deification of a great scholar known as Sugawara no Michizane, now enshrined as the God of Learning.

The first day of the celebration usually starts with rituals at the shrine and prayers by the river for the festival’s success. It is called Yomiya-sai or the pre-evening festival. Be sure to not miss the beautiful sight of omikoshi (portable shrines) during the procession from Midosuji Street across the Tenjinbashi Bridge.

On the second day, the festival resumes with the land procession that consists of drummers with red hats and over 3,000 performers in traditional attire. Upon reaching Okawa River, up to 100 boats will be filled with the participants before they sail along the river well. Look forward to the extravagant fireworks display that serves as the grand closure to the last night.

Also read: 15 Airbnbs in Osaka That Are Even Better Than Hotels

4. Awa Odori

Awa Odori, held in Tokushima Prefecture, is one of the most popular dance festivals during Japan’s summer season. Awa is actually the original name of Tokushima, while odori literally translates to “dance.” This vibrant occasion is typically held every year from the 12th to the 15th of July.

According to history, this celebration originated in 1587 during the opening of Tokushima Castle. The attendees are said to sing and dance while drunk, and the event turned out to be a joyful occasion and is celebrated annually to this day. 

The roads in downtown Tokushima are flocked with dancers called Ren in traditional costumes. The main highlight would be the ”Fool’s Dance” associated with the old Awa proverb: “The dancing fool and the watching fool are both fools, so why not dance?” 

FYI, the dancing event will start with professional dancers’ performances during the day and will begin to include spectators at night. We assure you this is one of the most exciting Japan summer activities you should try!

5. Sendai Tanabata Matsuri

Feast your eyes on brightly coloured forests along Sendai City from the 6th to 8th of August every year. Though Tanabata Matsuri is annually celebrated across the country, Sendai hosts the largest and most popular “star festival” in Japan. The main attractions would be the gorgeously decorated streamers which adorn the district’s shopping centres.

According to Chinese legend, this event is held to commemorate the tale between two celestial lovers represented by the stars: Vega and Altairs. They are to meet only once a year — on the seventh night of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. 

tanzaku sendai tanabata matsuri

Image credit (L-R): kumikomini | dodotone via Canva Pro

Plus, it’s customary to write one’s wish on a tanzaku (a strip of coloured paper), which you will hang on the bamboo branches. Aside from the rainbow-filled decorations, you will have fun watching various traditional performances, live music, and fireworks shows throughout the festival. Hands down the most vibrant Japan summer matsuri you should attend!

6. Hokkai Bon Odori

bon odori drum performance

Bon Odori drum performance | Image credit: Japan Travel Official Website Page

One of the most anticipated Japan summer festivals is none other than the Hokkai Bon Odori celebration. It is annually held in Odori Park, Sapporo, from the 14th to 20th of August. Remember the iconic goldfish scooping scene between heroes and heroines of your favourite anime? Yup, that’s part of this lively festival!

If you didn’t know yet, this event is organised to honour the dead ancestral spirits that return to their families once a year. The festivity usually includes dance and drum performances that vary from one region to another. However, most of them require the performers to dance around the yagura, a high wooden scaffold covered with red and white striped curtains and cloth.

yagura stage and girls in yukata at bon odori

Yagura stage (left), girls in yukata (right) | Image credit (L-R): Zozulya | Satoshi-K via Canva Pro

Don’t forget to don the best yukata to the festival to celebrate the event like the locals. Plus, you’ll surely look good in one, especially if you partake in the bon-odori dance! (*Wink.*)

Dazzling hanabi celebrations that’ll leave you in awe

7. Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

A Tokyo summer festival is incomplete without the Sumidagawa Hanabi, aka the biggest fireworks show in the city. You might have noticed that fireworks displays are integral to most Japan summer festivals. This is mainly due to the history of this festivity, which dates back to the Edo period.

In 1733, the first fireworks displays took place around the Sumida River to honour over 100 million souls that lost their lives to poverty the previous year. 

This festival occurs every last Saturday of July, and the best spot to witness the magnificent displays is anywhere near the Sumida River. It’s best to reserve your spots hours before the event starts, as the ground will be crowded with locals and foreigners by then. Many would dress in traditional yukata to watch this hanabi event, and you should do that too! Definitely one of the best Japan summer activities to add to your bucket list. 

Also read: 10 Affordable Airbnbs in Tokyo for Budget Travellers

8. Edogawa Fireworks Festival

edogawa fireworks display

Image credit: dreamnikon via Canva Pro

Another Tokyo summer festival you shouldn’t miss is the Edogawa Fireworks Festival. This event is held on the Edogawa River every first Saturday of August. Just like the previous fireworks display, it’s best that you wear your best yukata and share a picnic mat with your friends. 

Plus, there are plenty of yatai stores (food stalls) along the river banks, so get a local snack or two to munch up with everyone during the display. Just make sure to pick up your rubbish and throw it at the proper disposal place before you head home. 

TripZilla Tip: To get the best vantage point, head south of the Sobu Line bridge crossing the Edogawa River and try to avoid sloped banks as much as possible. 

Most awaited summer music festivals in Japan

9. Summer Sonic Fest

Summer Sonic Japan, or Supersonic, is one of the country’s premier urban music festivals. The two-day rock festival will simultaneously take place in Tokyo and Osaka, with acts switching days. So, worry not about missing the gigs of your favourite bands and singers!

You can watch the concerts in Tokyo at the Zozo Marine Stadium and Makuhari Seaside Park. Meanwhile, in Osaka, the event takes place on Maishima Sports Island. The ticket prices range from ¥13,800 to ¥39,000 and will be exchanged as wristbands. 

Expect local indie bands and famous names worldwide to entertain you throughout the festival. Taylor Swift, Coldplay, The Chainsmokers, and Beyonce are some of the top lineups that have shaken the stage of this Japan summer festival.

Other things to look forward to are the food stalls, art exhibitions, and the most awaited autograph sessions. So, be sure to make the best out of this year’s Sonic Festival in Japan!

Also read: 10 Affordable Airbnbs in Tokyo for Budget Travellers

10. Fuji Rock Festival

Fuji Rock Festival is another Japan summer matsuri you don’t want to miss. We’re talking over 200 Japanese and international artists making their grand appearances at the largest outdoor music festival in the country!

This annual rock festival lasts for three days at Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture. What makes it special is that you’ll be able to enjoy the hot springs and nature walks around the resort. In fact, you can even set up a camp throughout the three-day event. 

So, gather your concert buddies and book the tickets to one of the most exciting Japan summer festivals anticipated by all!

Also read: 10 Kyoto Historical Sites That Will Take You Back to Ancient Japan 

Which one of these Japan summer festivals piqued your interest? Whichever it is, you’re in for the best summertime of your life once you experience them yourself!

Planning to see any of these festivals this upcoming summer holiday? Feel free to tag us at @tripzillamag on Instagram!

About Author

Izzati Haron
Izzati Haron

Izzati is an author to two poem anthologies, a slam poet wannabe, and a full-time nanny to her kitties. She loves dreaming about traveling the world just like most protagonists in the movies, but more often than not, her bank account only permits her to travel to her backyard.