If you ask most people to name something synonymous with Japan, they’ll probably say “geisha, anime, and sushi.” And while all three of these items are originated in the land of the rising sun, and are popular abroad, they’re not the only things that represent the island nation. If you’re planning a trip to Japan, you’re going to want to make sure that you time it properly so you can experience one of these popular festivals and immerse yourself in Japan’s vibrant culture.
Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka
If you’re planning a trip in late July, then be sure to book your dates around the 24th and 25th for Tenjin Matsuri (“matsuri” means festival), which takes place in Osaka on the same dates every year. It’s one of the most popular festivals in the country, ranking in the top three events for locals and visitors. Just like anywhere else, summer is a popular season for festivals, and this one has a history dating back 1,000 years. Tenjin Matsuri celebrates the Sugawara Michizane deity, who presides over scholarship and learning.
While Tokyo and Kyoto are considered to have more reserved residents that might be shy to interact with foreigners, Osaka is considered more laid-back, making it a welcoming option for visitors who don’t speak Japanese. The two-day festival includes outdoor events, theatrical performances, and processions as well as plenty of opportunities to eat, drink, and be merry.
Awa Odori Matsuri in Tokushima
Find us a nation that hates dancing and we’ll be very shocked. Just like anywhere else, dancing in Japan is a way to celebrate, connect with loved ones, and share cultural traditions. Awa Odori Matsuri is a festival that takes place every August in Tokushima and is specifically focused on celebrating various dance forms that originated in Japan. Often ignored in favor of more fast-paced cities like Tokyo, Tokushima transforms into a vibrant oasis as processional dances take place daily throughout the six-day event.
Performance troops come from across the nation to showcase their well-crafted dances. Awa Odori Matsuri has become so popular that the event attracts millions of visitors from around the world. In addition to processional dances, there are stages with riser seating set up for easier viewing as well as the occasional dance competition between competing troops. If immersing yourself in Japanese culture is your goal, consider this festival a crash course.
Sapporo Autumn Festival in Sapporo
Sapporo is a city located on the northernmost major island within Japan—Hokkaido. Most people might be only vaguely familiar with the city because of the beer that has the same name (and yes, that beer is brewed there!). But Sapporo is also well-known for its numerous festivals that take place throughout the year. You might be aware of their winter festival, Sapporo Yuki Matsuri, which often features astounding structures etched entirely from ice or snow—but we’re not here to talk about that.
If you come to Sapporo in September, then you’re in for a real treat because you can plan your trip to coincide with the Sapporo Autumn Festival. Foodies, wine lovers, and craft beer fans will rejoice at this event because it centers around good food, drinks, and camaraderie. However, plan accordingly because the festival dates can shift depending on when autumn is set to start each year. While this is usually in September, the specific dates can change. In 2019, the Sapporo Autumn Festival will take place from September 6 through the 29th. But since that’s almost the entire month, you have a bit more flexibility and won’t feel pressed to create an itinerary focused on a small window of time.