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GUIDE Ten Japanese Festivals to Take Part in From graceful dancing to high-speed danjiri racing, choose the Japanese festival for you

Japanese festivals, or matsuri, are a very important part of the Japanese cultural calendar

Some matsuri date back almost a thousand years, and months and months of preparation and hard work go into making them a success. Until recent times, participation has been restricted to locals, however times are definitely changing.

The 10 festivals below have been hand-picked by editors at by DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan. These festivals encourage public participation from both locals and visitors from overseas. Forge a deeper connection to Japanese culture by taking part in a matsuri.

Hokkai Heso Matsuri

Where: Furano-shi, Hokkaido

When: July 28-29

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

Furano City is in the center of Hokkaido and is affectionately described as the island's "belly button." This fact, combined with the festival's connection to the Heso Shrine, was the spark that created the Hokkai Heso (or belly button) Matsuri. People paint the upper-half of their bodies to resemble comical faces and parade through the city bringing color and vibrancy to the area.

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri

Where: Aomori-shi, Aomori

When: August 2-7

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

Accompany the huge, vibrantly colored doll-shaped lanterns known as Nebuta as they are paraded through the city of Aomori at nighttime. The festival is played out to the sounds of drums, flutes, cymbals and dancers leaping to cries of “Rassera.” Rental costumes are required to participate.

Kesencho Kenka Tanabata Matsuri

Where: Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate

When: August 7

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

Large floats are pulled around the town before being crashed into each other in a stirring finale. This festival has a very long history, but serves a greater purpose in more recent times as it aims to raise the spirits of those who suffered in the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck the area on March 11, 2011.

Hanamaki Matsuri

Where: Hanamaki-shi, Iwate

When: The second Fri-Sun in September (dates may differ depending on the year)

Photo: Courtesy of Hanamaki-shi

This festival received Guinness World Record certification for the largest number of mikoshi (portable shrines) displayed in one location. Experience something new by joining the locals in carrying the portable shrines. The festival showcases distinctive Tohoku culture including the beautifully-decorated floats and deer dances.

Chichibu Yo Matsuri

Where: Chichibu-shi, Saitama

When: December 2-3

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

This festival is one of Japan's top three Hikiyama festivals. The matsuri has so much prestige that it is the dream of many float-pullers to participate here. Attending the festival gives you the opportunity to feel the power and beauty of traditional Japanese culture.

Gujo Odori

Where: Gujo-shi, Gifu

When: About 30 evenings between mid-July and early September

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

This festival is one of Japan's top three odori dance festivals. The free-and-easy way that participants dance in circles wearing traditional yukata dress and geta sandals distinguishes this festival from the many others. Anyone can join in the four all-night dances held on August 13-16.

Katsuyama Kenka Danjiri

Where: Maniwa-shi, Okayama

When: October 19-20

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

Large danjiri floats are paraded around the city before clashing in a thrilling and violent way with other floats. Brave visitors to this matsuri can join the teams pulling the floats, or alternatively you can feel the power of this dramatic spectacle from relative safety at the side of the course.

Hiwasa Hachiman Jinja Shuki Reitaisai

Where: Minami-cho, Tokushima

When: Saturday and Sunday before Sports Day in October

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

Heavy floats known as Chosa are hauled onto shoulders and paraded around the seaside town of Hiwasa before being dragged out into the sea. The festival brings many people together. The town is known for its exquisite seafood.

Yamaga Toro Matsuri

Where: Yamaga-shi, Kumamoto

When: August 15-16

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

Ladies at this festival can take part in something fantastical. One thousand female dancers move gracefully to traditional melodies while wearing gold paper lanterns upon their heads. Participation is limited to females and rental costumes are required to take part.

Misatocho no Ondasai

Where: Misato-cho, Miyazaki

When: The first Saturday and Sunday of July

Photo: DyDo Group “Matsuri” of Japan

Experience life as a rice-planting maiden and forge a closer connection to Japanese farming. During this festival, females plant rice in the sacred grounds of the shrine. Rental costumes are required to take part.

The latest information may differ, so please check the official website https://www.dydo-ghd.co.jp/sustainability/matsuri/overview/tv_library/en/

* The information on this page may be subject to change due to COVID-19.

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