Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Travel Tuesday: 20 Festivals in 10 Months

Now that I'm back in England I keep getting asked the question, what was the best thing you did in Japan? Which of course is an impossibly hard question to answer, however I must say one of my favourite things was all of the festivals.

In Japanese, festivals are called matsuri, there are matsuri ranging from Children's Day, to welcoming back your ancestors' spirits. Below are the first 10 festivals I saw while living in Japan for 10 months, some are the most famous in Japan, others are very small local matsuri.

1: ???
What? A small dancing festival as part of the lead up to Gion Matsuri. I can't find any information on the internet about it and can't remember it's name.
Where? In front of Kyoto City Hall.
When? July 9th.

2: Yoiyoi-yama

What? Another festival in the lead up to Gion Matsuri. The three nights before Gion Matsuri the streets are filled with lanterns, food stalls, floats and of course crowds of people. Out of all the festivals this one had the most interesting atmosphere as everyone was gearing up to celebrate the big day.
Where? Various streets around Kyoto.
When? On July 14th, three nights before Gion Matsuri is Yoiyoiyoi-yama. On July 15th is Yoiyoi-yama and on July 16th is Yoi-yama.

3: Gion Matsuri
What? Gion Matsuri is one of the largest and most famous festivals in Japan. It is technically a month long festival, however the main event (Yamaboko-junko) is a parade of 32 floats. However starting from this year Gion Matsuri is going to have a major change and there will be two smaller parades on different days. I am so glad I was in Kyoto last year as it was the last chance to see all 32 floats together.
Where? Various streets around Kyoto.
When? July 14th

4: Mitarashi Matsuri
What? River water is diverted into the grounds of the shrine where it creates a shallow river and pool. It is believed that by walking through this water you will be blessed with good health. It is very popular with school children as a fun summer activity and leading up to the shrine there were many food stalls.
Where? Shimogamo-jinja Shrine to the north of Kyoto.
When? July 20th

5: Hanagasa Junko
What? The second largest public event of Gion Matsuri after the Yamaboko-junko. It is a parade of children, dancers, floats and even Maiko (apprentice Geisha.)
Where? The parade starts at Yasaka-jinja Shrine and then goes around the nearby streets.
When? July 24th.

6: Bon Odori

What? In mid-August it is Obon, a time of year when it is believed that ancestors' sprits return to visit. As part of Obon, every communtiy has a Bon Odori (Bon Dance.) This dance is to welcome the spirits home.
Where? There are Bon Odori all over Japan. The one I went to last year was in Nishijin, the older, less famous Geisha area in Kyoto.
When? August 4th

What? Tanabata is the star festival. It is believed that two lovers in the stars are separated by the milky way and can only meet on this night, if the sky is clear. A popular activity on Tanabata is writing your wish on piece of paper and tying it to a bamboo tree.
Where? There are Tanabata celebrations all over Japan, however my photo is from Horikawa River in Kyoto.
When? August 7th.

8: Seiryu-e
What? Possibly the most recent addition to Kyoto's festival calender is Seiryu-e which was started in 2000. The style is very Chinese influenced, there is a dragon and musicians which go on a parade around the temple grounds and nearby streets of Gion.
Where? The parade starts at Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
When? September 15th.

9: ???

What? Erm, I have no idea! I was traveling near Kobe and just happened upon this festival which I like to call the Pink Festival!
Where? Somewhere near Kobe..
When? Mid-October sometime...

10: Jidai Matsuri
What? Along with Gion Matsuri and Aoi Matsuri (which unfortunatley I missed) Jidai Matsuri is one of Kyoto's three big festivals. It is a parade of people dressed up in costumes from various era's and many poeple are dressed up as specific historical figures.
Where? The parade starts from Gosho (the Imperial Palace in Kyoto.)
When? October 22nd.

These are the first 10 festivals I saw while in Japan, next week I will post about the next 10 which I saw! Please note that the dates are the dates I went to the festivals in 2013, in some cases the dates might change each year.

Linking up with Bonnie Rose for Travel Tuesday.


  1. I love the costumes in the first picture! Japan is so different from the rest of the world but yet so fascinating! I would love to visit although I'm sure I would suffer a culture shock ;) But festivals always present you the local culture at its best so thanks for sharing these with us!

    1. The costumes at Japanese festivals are always so amazing and colourful, I love them! It is definitely a very fascinating place! Thank you for reading :)

  2. I can't wait to read about the 10 that you were actually able to attend! Do you have a favourite festival? x

    1. I did attend all 10 of these festivals :) they were the first ten I saw and next week will be the next 10. Hard question! I love Obon season though when there are Bon Odori dances all over Japan!

  3. It's crazy being from the Western world and seeing all the traditions and customs of the East that I have no idea about! It's fascinating! Thanks for sharing! Beautiful pictures too :)

    1. Glad you find it fascinating! Everything is very different from the west but especially all the traditional things :)

  4. The Tanabata T__T
    totally going to miss it this year :[
    the one in kyoto looks so gorgeous!

    1. It was lovely in Kyoto, they had lots of different light displays by the river, so pretty!

  5. All of these look like such cool festivals! I love all of the costumes. So fascinating!

    1. Thanks! The costumes are always really amazing!