Matsuri is the Japanese word for festival.
Festivals are held to celebrate something, whether it be a holiday, the harvest, or a religious event. They are a time for people to come together and enjoy themselves.
In Japan – There are many different types of matsuri, each with its own unique traditions and customs.
The Origin of Matsuri
The first matsuri was held to honor the gods and goddesses of Shintoism, the native religion of Japan.
People would offer food, dance, and music to the deities in hopes of receiving their blessing.
Over time, matsuris evolved to become more secular events.
Today, they are still a time for people to come together and celebrate, but they are also a time for people to enjoy the food, drink, and entertainment that the festival has to offer.
Types of Matsuri
Festivals in Japan feature a lot of the same things: parades, dancing, music, good food, and drinks, but every festival is slightly different.
The differences start with the type of festival it is, and what the main focus of the matsuri is.
Here are a few of the common matsuri in Japan.
Tanabata Matsuri is the Star Festival.
The festival celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi who are said to be lovers.
They are separated by the Milky Way and can only meet once a year on Tanabata.
People celebrate the festival by hanging streamers and writing wishes on them.
The Mizu-Kake Matsuri is a Water Throwing Festival.
It is held to cleanse people of their sins. The festival started in the Edo period, and it has been held since then.
And yes, this does mean that water is thrown at each other, and not just towards general areas.
What to Expect? This type of festival also features a race where teams try to carry the heaviest mikoshi or portable shrine.
Danjiri Matsuri is a festival where teams of people pull a float called a danjiri through the streets.
The floats are decorated with lanterns and often have music playing from them.
The festival was originally a way to honor the gods and pray for a good harvest and still is today. It is also a time for people to show off their strength as they try to pull the float as fast as they can.
Nomaoi is a festival that features a samurai horse race.
The race is held to honor the deity of Mount Osore. This festival started as a way for samurai to train but has since lost the training element and is now more of a competition.
During the Race – Teams dress up in full samurai gear and try to catch a flag called a sashimono while riding horses.
The team that catches the flag first is the winner.
The Kanto Matsuri is a festival where people try to balance large paper lanterns on poles.
The winner is the person who can balance the most lanterns on their pole, and the record-breaking winner successfully balanced 42 lanterns.
The lanterns are often very ornately decorated and can be quite heavy.
This festival is held to pray for good harvests and to ward off evil spirits. It is also a time for people to show off their strength and endurance.
The Largest Matsuri
If you love crowds and want to see the biggest, and best matsuri in Japan, these are the top five that you won’t want to miss.
1. The Gion Matsuri
The Gion Festival is one of the most famous and well-known festivals in all of Japan.
It is held annually in Kyoto and lasts for almost the entire month of July.
The festival is a celebration of the gods of Shintoism and features many traditional elements, such as floats called yamaboko, that are carried through the streets.
2. The Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa is a festival that takes place in Fukuoka City on the island of Kyushu.
It is held annually in July and features massive floats that are carried through the streets by teams of men.
The festival is a celebration of the patron deity of Fukuoka, Hakata Hajime-no-kami.
3. The Awa Odori Matsuri
The Awa Odori is a festival that takes place in Tokushima City on the island of Shikoku.
It is held annually in August and features dancers who perform traditional Japanese dances through the streets.
The festival is a celebration of the Obon holiday, which is a time to honor one’s ancestors.
4. The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri
The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri is a festival that takes place in Kishiwada City in Osaka Prefecture.
It is held annually in September and features teams of men who carry massive floats called danjiri through the streets.
The festival is a celebration of the harvest and the deities that protect the city.
5. The Jidai Matsuri
The Jidai Matsuri is a festival that takes place in Kyoto and is held annually in October.
It is one of the most popular festivals in Kyoto and features a parade of people dressed in traditional clothing from different eras of Japanese history.
The festival is a celebration of the founding of Kyoto.
In addition to the above festivals, many seasonal matsuris are held throughout the year.
These festivals usually celebrate the changing of the seasons and feature traditional elements such as food, drink, and entertainment.
Some of the most popular seasonal matsuris include the following.
The Setsubun Matsuri
The Setsubun Matsuri is a festival that is held annually in February to celebrate the beginning of spring.
This festival features traditional elements such as mame-maki (bean-throwing) and o-mikuji (fortune-telling).
The Hanami Matsuri
This festival happens in April to celebrate the arrival of spring.
It is also known as the “Cherry Blossom Viewing Festival” and features picnics and parties under the blossoming cherry trees.
The Tanabata Matsuri
The Tanabata Matsuri is held in July and celebrates the stars.
It is one of the most popular festivals in Japan and features traditional elements such as paper lanterns and streamers.
The Aki Matsuri
A fall festival that celebrates the changing of the leaves is the Aki Matsuri which is held annually in October.
This is a very popular festival in Japan and crowds gather to taste sake and watch kabuki performances.
The Jyoyo Matsuri
The Jyoyo Matsuri is a festival that is held annually in December to celebrate the winter solstice.
This festival features traditional elements such as mochi (rice cakes) and kagami-mochi (mirror rice cakes), as well as bonfires to warm yourself up.
Matsuris are a time for people to come together and celebrate.
They offer a chance for people to show off their strength and endurance, as well as their creativity and craftsmanship.
The festivals we’ve listed are just some of the many that take place in Japan throughout the year.
If you have the opportunity, be sure to attend at least one during your time in Japan!