An overview of Japan's must-see parties and festivals

A trip to Japan is not only an opportunity to admire vibrant megacities mixed with wild and strangely exotic nature. It is, also and above all, a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a thousand-year-old culture as rich as it is fascinating. Whether you are enjoying a winter sports holiday in Hokkaido or the pristine beaches of Ishigaki, there are festivals in Japan that are not to be missed under any circumstances!

Traditional festivals, or "matsuri"

In Japanese culture, a matsuri refers to a popular and joyful festival that enlivens the streets of a city for one or more days. These matsuri celebrations often correspond to a particular event in the Shinto calendar.

The most famous matsuri of them is undoubtedly the Gion Matsuri, which takes place in Kyoto during the whole month of July and ends in apotheosis by the two great parades of Yamaboko Junko to close this matsuri. Commonly called Gion-san, Gion Matsuri is the most famous festival in Japan. During Gion Matsuri, more than thirty floats offer a grandiose spectacle to the Japanese and tourists. This festival dates back more than 1,000 years and was intended to appease the deities responsible for diseases or plagues.

Between 14 and 16 July, the Gion-bayashi, also known as the Yoiyama festival, offers incredible festivities during which the whole city is illuminated. However, it is not necessary to stay on the main island of the archipelago to enjoy the charm of an authentic cultural festival in Japan!

If you are lucky enough to take advantage of Ishigaki's warm sunshine to escape the rigors of early November, don't miss the Ishigaki Matsuri: for two full days, during this matsuri period, the festival takes place in all the streets of the city, especially in Shinei Park, where many cultural and musical shows from Japan are offered free of charge. As is customary in this city in Japan, a large parade concludes the event.

If you prefer to come to Japan in mid-August, you can attend the bewitching Angama procession, during which the inhabitants, grimacing in spirit, simulate the temporary return of their deceased to the homes of Japan"

Did you know?

The matsuri, more than just a cultural festival in Japan, is also often the stage for exceptional physical performances. In Ishigaki, for example, one of the leaders of the parade has the role of keeping a huge wooden pole upright, helped by other festival-goers with small sticks. The matsuri is a particularly impressive sight!

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Sport and leisure activities: festivals to surprise yourself

The inhabitants of Ishigaki and the Yaeyama Islands have their own way of celebrating the arrival of spring: from the end of March in Japan, all the bravest are invited to go into the water in joy and good humour!

The Yaeyama Beach Opening Festival takes place every year on Miyazato Beach on Kuro Island, only twenty minutes by boat from Ishigaki. Many water activities are offered throughout the day, as well as a picturesque Miss Yaeyama election.

In early June, the other event not to be missed is the traditional dragon boat race from the port of Ishigaki, where you will have the opportunity to admire the sabani, which are traditional boats from the Okinawa region.

Sporting prowess doesn't exclude a moment of relaxation: at the very beginning of July, Ishigaki hosts the Orion Beer Festival: more than 15,000 fans gather every year to taste this highly prized local variety of hop drink, while enjoying numerous concerts and open-air shows: a guaranteed change of scenery in Japan!

Did you know?

The Yama, Hoko, Yatai are annual popular parades during which floats built by the inhabitants proudly parade through the streets. These folklore events are among the most famous festivals in Japan, and were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016.

Snow festivals: a bewitching icy beauty

A winter holiday on the island of Hokkaido is an opportunity to treat yourself to some thrills on immaculate powder slopes, but not only! For a whole week at the beginning of February, the city of Sapporo hosts its big snow festival, or "Yuki Matsuri".

Nearly two million visitors flock to Yuki Matsuri every year to admire several hundred ice statues and sculptures, many of them very impressive and demonstrating an extraordinary mastery on the part of their creators. The discovery trail can ideally be complemented by numerous stands and fun snow-related activities. The Yuki Matsuri festival is sure to enchant you during the winter.

Sapporo is not the only city to offer this type of Yuki Matsuri experience. You can also find smaller but equally magical Yuki Matsuri in Asahikawa (second week of February), and on the shores of Shikotsu and Shikaribetsu lakes from January to mid-March. Today, Yuki Matsuri is offered to Japanese people and tourists in three places in Japan: Odori Park, Susukino district and Tsudome site. One of the original sites of the Yuki Matsuri festival was closed to the public in 2005.

Festivals in Japan are all about a change of scenery, beauty and some form of authenticity. These festive events, which punctuate the local calendar, are essential for appreciating Japanese culture in all its subtlety!

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