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Regions of Japan

Hokkaido Tohoku Hokuriku
Shinetsu
Kanto Tokai Kansai Chugoku Shikoku Kyushu Okinawa Islands SAPPORO TOKYO NAGOYA OSAKA FUKUOKA FURANO KUSHIRO AOMORI SENDAI FUKUSHIMA NIKKO HAKONE SADO TAKAYAMA KANAZAWA ISE KYOTO NARA HIROSHIMA NAGASAKI KAGOSHIMA NAHA
Hokkaido
Hokkaido
  • Hokkaido
Sub-zero temperatures and the greatest of outdoor environments, complemented by sizzling soul food and warm-hearted welcomes. Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush
Tohoku
Tohoku
  • Aomori
  • Akita
  • Iwate
  • Yamagata
  • Miyagi
  • Fukushima
Sleek apple-red and electric-green shinkansen whisk you up to a haven of fresh powder snow, fresh fruit and fearsome folk legends Fearsome festivals, fresh powder and vast fruit orchards—the rugged northern territory of Tohoku offers a fresh perspective on travel in Japan
Hokuriku Shinetsu
Hokuriku Shinetsu
  • Niigata
  • Toyama
  • Ishikawa
  • Fukui
  • Nagano
Mountains and sea meet in one of Japan's wildest regions, and the result is sheer beauty. Once largely inaccessible, Hokuriku is now reachable by shinkansen from Tokyo in a matter of hours An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare
Kanto
Kanto
  • Tokyo
  • Kanagawa
  • Chiba
  • Saitama
  • Ibaraki
  • Tochigi
  • Gunma
Characterized by the constant buzz of the world's most populous metropolitan area, the Kanto region is surprisingly green with an array of escapes that include mountainous getaways and subtropical islands Experience diversity at its fullest, from the neon of Tokyo to the ski slopes of Gunma, exotic wildlife of the Ogasawara Islands and cultural heritage of Kamakura
Tokai
Tokai
  • Yamanashi
  • Shizuoka
  • Gifu
  • Aichi
  • Mie
Served by the shinkansen line that connects Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the Tokai region provides plenty of interesting diversions and easy excursions Tokai means "eastern sea," and this region stretches east from Tokyo to Kyoto and includes blockbuster attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama
Kansai
Kansai
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
  • Shiga
  • Hyogo
  • Nara
  • Wakayama
From raucous nights out to outdoor thrills to peaceful reverie, trying to categorize the Kansai region is a futile task The Kansai region is one of extreme contrasts—the neon lights of Osaka and glittering Kobe nightscape, the peaceful realms of Shiga, Wakayama and Nara, and the cultured refinement of Kyoto
Chugoku
Chugoku
  • Tottori
  • Shimane
  • Okayama
  • Hiroshima
  • Yamaguchi
Less-traveled and delightfully inaccessible at times, the Chugoku region is a reminder that the journey is sometimes more important than the destination Welcome to Japan's warm and friendly western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower
Shikoku
Shikoku
  • Tokushima
  • Kagawa
  • Ehime
  • Kochi
Providing the stage for literary classics, fevered dancing and natural wonders Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving
Kyushu
Kyushu
  • Fukuoka
  • Saga
  • Nagasaki
  • Oita
  • Kumamoto
  • Miyazaki
  • Kagoshima
Easily reached by land, sea and air, the dynamic Kyushu prefectures are bubbling with energy, culture and activity The southern island of Kyushu is home to volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky, succulent seafood, steaming hot springs and the country's hottest entrepreneurial town
Okinawa
Okinawa
  • Okinawa
Ruins and recreated castles of the Ryukyu kings nestle amid magnificent beaches in Okinawa, a diver's paradise teeming with an amazing array of coral and undersea life Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings

Festivals & Events

Gion Matsuri 祇園祭

Kyoto's hottest summer celebration is Japan's biggest cultural block party

The Gion Matsuri dominates the festival calendar in Japan. It's the country's biggest festival, has been held every year since 869, and turns the city into a huge block party, especially during the two periods in mid-July when the giant floats are displayed and then pulled through the streets.

Locals and visitors alike feast and drink late into the night during the three-day runups to the parades of spectacular multi-ton floats. Locals celebrate Kyoto's culture and wealth by showing off their possessions during the related Byobu Matsuri.

Tips

  • The Yoiyama evening celebrations leading up to the parades
  • Family heirlooms displayed during the Byobu Matsuri
  • Watching the giant floats execute hair-raising turns

How to Get There

The Gion Matsuri takes place around the center of Kyoto, and can be easily accessed by subway, bus, taxi or on foot.

The main celebrations of the festival are centered around Shijo, Kawaramachi and Oike streets. It is relatively easy to find a spot to watch the parade from along the route, provided you pay attention to potential road closures.

Quick Facts

The festival reportedly began as a purification ritual

The floats in the parade weigh up to 12 tons

Pomp, history and celebration

The people of Kyoto and visitors have thrilled to the Gion Matsuri since 869, when it was held to appease the gods during an epidemic. A local boy is still chosen as a sacred messenger to the gods. Seated on one of the many elaborate floats, his feet do not touch the ground from the 13th until the first parade ends on the 17th.

There are two types of floats, yama and hoko. The latter can be up to 25 meters tall and weigh up to 12 tons. Both yama and hoko are elaborately decorated and have unique themes. Adorned with exquisite craftwork such as woven fabric, dyed textiles and sculptures, they're so gorgeous that they are sometimes called "mobile art museums."

A float at Gion Matsuri

Three nights of summer fun, twice, before the parades

There are actually two parades, with the one on July 17 the largest of the two with 23 floats, and the second on July 24 with about half that number.

Each parade is preceded by three evenings of celebration known as Yoiyama. These three nights allow people to visit the floats, buy good luck charms called chimaki and enjoy local street food. An ideal way to spend the hot and humid Kyoto evenings is to join the locals in their colorful cotton yukata robes and soak up the long history of this traditional Kyoto festival.

Performers at Gion Matsuri

Laying out treasures for the public

A customary event known as the Byobu Matsuri or Folding Screen Festival, takes place during the Yoiyama days of the festival. Wealthy families in the Shinmachi and Muromachi areas show off their private treasures such as screens and kimonos, displaying them in front of their houses or even welcoming people into their homes for a viewing, and local merchants also exhibit their art collections.