Matsuri Mania in Japan
Plan your trip to the land of the rising sun during one of these fascinating festivals
Japan keeps itself rooted in tradition by celebrating a number of colourful festivals throughout the year. The country has more festivals, known as matsuri, as compared to any other country in the world. One of the amazing characteristics of Japan is that there is almost always a festival taking place somewhere in the country.
The festivals are renowned for their colour and exuberance and every town in the country has at least one matsuri every year and some are held over several days. The festivals come in all shapes and sizes. They range from ancient shrine rituals in a small rural community to striking state processions with intricately-decorated shrines or floats, awe-inspiring fireworks, snow festivals, rice festivals, festivals of lanterns, dolls and dance, among others. Small town festivals are usually celebrated in spring or autumn, while the bigger cities host the festivities during the summer.
Matsuris are a fun, lively and an unforgettable way to explore Japanese culture. Planning a trip around these festivals offer visitors the ideal opportunity to see Japan at its liveliest! Tourists can participate in most of the festivities, wear a kimono, observe traditional dances, eat delicious street food and have a great time out. It's also the perfect time to engage in conversation with the locals and experience the illustrious Japanese hospitality. Here is a look at some of the spectacular festivals:
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri
Hokkaido hosts the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, one of the world's most famous snow and ice festivals, for seven days in February. Renowned for its nearly 400 splendid ice and snow sculptures, some measuring more than 25 metres wide and 15 metres high, the festival welcomes more than two million visitors every year. The sculptures often depict famous structures of the world including Japanese castles as well as famous personalities. It is held in three different locations: the Odori, Susukino, and Tsu Dome site. The sculptures are especially magical in the evenings when they are beautifully illuminated. The festival also has variety of events that can be enjoyed by different age groups such as concerts, beauty contests, snow-sculpting competition, culinary stalls, snow slides, skating, and more. The best views of the winter wonderland can be enjoyed from the TV Tower, located at the Odori site, and entry costs about 700 ¥ (approx. Dh23).
Tsunan Yuki Matsuri
Take a trip to the Niigata Prefecture in March and witness a breathtaking view of floating lanterns at the Tsunan Yuki Matsuri or the snow festival. The town has one of the heaviest snowfalls in the world. During the festival, as darkness falls everyone makes their way to the ski slopes. The beauty of the gorgeous spectacle is there for all to behold when over 1,000 glowing lanterns are released in the snowy backdrop, amid gasps of amazement from the crowd. The light snowfall looks like glitter in the radiance of the lanterns. Entry to the festival is free and there are a number of food stalls and activities available to keep visitors occupied till it is time for the main event.
This riot of colours is held in the Aomori Prefecture, and is one of Japan's most visually striking summer festivals that takes place annually between August 2 and 7. The streets of the city come alive with animated lantern floats that can take almost up to a year to create. The floats can depict warriors, animals, celebrities and popular pop culture characters that are made from traditional Japanese paper (washi) and are lit from the inside. The floats are taken on a procession and are accompanied by dancers wearing the cultural haneto costumes and musicians. The parade takes place every evening during the week, except on the last day when it is held in the afternoon, which is followed by an impressive fireworks display in the evening. Anyone can participate in the festivities as long as they wear the haneto costumes that can be easily rented in the city.
One of the country's biggest annual events, the festival takes place in Kyoto during the whole month of July. It features over 20 meter tall festival floats that can weigh up to 12 tonnes and the highlight of the event is the parade of floats that are displayed on the streets on July 17, called the Yamaboko JunkÕ. The floats are decorated in beautiful Nishijin textiles. For the celebrations, streets are lined with stalls selling traditional food items, Japanese sweets and souvenir shops. Women usually dress up in colourful yukata and walk around carrying traditional purses and paper fans. Some private houses in the historic districts open their doors to the public, where people get the chance to observe traditional Japanese lifestyle.
The festival is one of the three biggest events held in the capital city of Tokyo, on the grounds of the Sensoji Temple. It is an annual festival that takes place in the Asakusa district over the third weekend in May. The festival has about 100 portable shrines, known as mikoshi, which are paraded on the streets in order to bring good fortune to the residents. The district is packed with food stalls, festival games and revellers in a dynamic atmosphere of Japanese drums and flutes. The locals perform a dance called Binzasara Mai, which is a prayer for abundant harvest and prosperity and it is performed by people dressed in grand costumes and is an absolutely mesmerising experience to be a part of.