The summer may be hot but that doesn’t stop the abundance of exciting festivals that take place throughout Japan. Get ready to see giant lanterns, roaring flames, exciting fireworks displays and dance the night away. Visitors are often more than welcome to join in the festivities so don’t hesitate to get caught up in the mood and enjoy yourself! Years of history and culture have led to these fascinating displays, each one unique but every single one breathtaking in its own way. Enjoy the summer in Japan and visit some (or all!) of these wonderful festivals.
One of three major fire festivals in Japan, and easily one of the most dramatic to witness, the Nachi Fire Festival is held annually in the tranquil Kumano mountains. Twelve large flaming pine torches, weighing more than a hundred pounds each, are carried up hundreds of steps through the Nachi Taisha Shrine adjacent to the sacred Great Waterfall of Nachi. The blazing torches purify the road leading to the waterfall and honor the deities living in the area. Once at the waterfall, you’ll also be able to see the twelve twenty-foot tall portable shrines and enjoy watching the ritual musical performances and offerings. Enjoy this impressive display while visiting the Kumano mountains, a world heritage site. Don’t miss the Nachi Fire Festival held in mid-July each year.
Here is an illuminating festival that anyone can get involved with, so wear your comfy shoes and be prepared to dance! Each night of the festival, get ready to see spectacular 3-dimensional giant floats made of paper and illuminated from within. The floats often represent famed warriors as well as animals and other scenes from nature and Japanese mythology. The scale and craftsmanship that goes into these large-scale paper lanterns will astound you as they colorfully weave through the crowds, accompanied by dancers, the bang of taiko drums, and the sound of flutes and cymbals. Originally the floats were made from bamboo frames and illuminated with candles, but for obvious safety reasons the style has changed slightly over the years. If you’d like to participate in the dance, you can to rent a haneto yukata outfit from one of the shops around town. The fun isn’t over with the parade, as the festival closes with an unmissable fireworks display on the waterfront. Aomori Nebuta Festival is held in early August each year.
Shoro Nagashi (Nagasaki)
©Nagasaki Prefecture Convention and Tourism Association
Celebrated at the end of Obon, the three day festival of spirits, Nagasaki lights up in a celebration of Shoro Nagashi as the ancestors are encouraged to return home to the spirit world. Those who have lost family members make a paper boat that is illuminated with a lantern and sent down the river. Boats are usually designed in such a way that they represent the deceased family member, this could be with decoration or with small items placed in the boat. The sight of hundreds of boats floating down the river is a beautiful and memorable experience that makes this festival worth seeing even if you don’t take part. Things get louder and brighter as the evening goes on, with fireworks, gongs, and drums parading up and down the streets and slopes of Nagasaki. Many people bring earplugs to the party because it gets so hectic. Shoro Nagashi is held in mid-August each year.
©Kumamoto Prefecture Tourist Federation
Yamaga is famous for its golden lanterns and never will you see more of them than at this mesmerizing lantern dance. Over a thousand women wear yukata and dance to traditional music while wearing the lanterns on their heads; the dances are slow and methodical and showcase the beauty of this celebration. The men, also wearing traditional costumes, recreate a local story of when the Emperor and his entourage supposedly became lost one foggy night and followed the lanterns lit by Yamaga locals home. After the performances, you’ll be delighted by a display of thousands of spectacular fireworks, so grab some street food and enjoy the show. To carry on the fun, you can also visit the Yamaga lantern museum where you can learn more about the festival and the history of the local lanterns. Visiting the museum will also provide you with a discount ticket to the Yamaga theatre where you can watch kabuki and noh performances. Yamaga Lantern Matsuri is held in mid- August every year.
Head to Kyoto city center to catch the best view of the giant fiery displays lit on the slopes of the mountains that surround the Kyoto basin. Five blazing fires are lit and together they are referred to as Kyoto Gozan Okuribi, each fire representing a written character or image such as a ship or a torii gate. Perhaps the most famous is the fire representing the character ‘big’ which is set across two mountains. The fires are lit at the same time around 8:00- 8:30 pm and will burn for approximately thirty minutes before being extinguished. During this time, people will remember their deceased family members, making this one of the more peaceful fire and light festivals. As the fires are so large, you’ll be able to see them from almost anywhere in the city but it’s worth finding your ideal spot early as the streets get busy. Kyoto Gozan Okuribi is held in mid-August each year.