Your Celebration Guide To Japan’s Summer Festivals
Every culture comes with its own array of customs, and Japan is a country where that does not fall short. What makes Japanese culture so unique is that most of its customs go along with the seasons. We all may have heard of Japan’s springtime cherry blossom season that is paired with a traditional picnic under the beautiful, pink trees, but did you know that summer time in Japan is filled with amazing, colorful matsuri? Matsuri, which translates in English to festival, fill Japan’s summer’s calendar. If you are traveling or studying in Japan during the summer, consider yourself lucky. Dress yourself in a yukata, grab some festival food, and get ready to experience one of the best ways to discover Japanese culture.
Types of Festivals:
Amid hot and humid summer evenings, you will find yourself among friendly locals just as curious about you as you are about the event. You will find that amongst the many community run festivals that take place throughout the summer, there will be several, and some much larger, that stand out. While some hold their basis in religion, many others do not. Here is a quick list of the types of festivals you will see more commonly throughout Japan.
Firework Festivals 花火
One of my first festivals in Japan was a firework festival, but not just any firework festival. I attended the oldest, largest, and most famous festival that Tokyo had to offer, the Sumida River Fireworks Festival in Tokyo. What began back in the 1700s has grown into an event where millions show up to watch the captivating show. Japanese firework displays are something you don’t want to miss.
Obon Festival お盆
Obon is a festival where you can get your dance on! Based in Buddhist faith, it takes place during a time where Japanese spirits are said to return to visit the living. The dance that take place, called bonodori, happens in a circular motion around a center stage where someone sings a tune. The combination of repetitive dance moves, music, and song is sort of a comforting, meditative way to remember your ancestors.
Tanabata Festival 七夕
Tanabata, translated to “the Night of the Sevens”, but known as the Star Festival, is a festival with Chinese roots. Legend says that two lovers separated by the Milky Way could only reunite during the seventh day of the seventh month. On this day, people write their wishes on colored strips of paper and tie them to bamboo trees in hopes that their wishes will one day come true. Colorful streamers and lanterns fill the festival streets during this time, too.
Traditional Festival Dress: The Yukata 浴衣
In efforts to beat the summer heat, yet still dressing to impress, it is popular to see many festival goers adorned in a light cotton kimono known as a yukata. It is not necessary to wear one to an event, but there is no doubt that it might make it all feel a bit more authentic. You will usually see groups of girls decked out in colorful, floral yukatas with elaborate up-dos styled with a traditional hair pin called a kanzashi. Men also have the option to wear yukata as well (although it’s a more toned down version), and don’t forget your wooden flip flops!
Festival Food 祭りの食べ物
If you are like me, one of the most exciting elements of a festival is the food! You can find an arrangement of different types of festival snacks depending on where you are in Japan, but here are a few common tastes you might find.
Two words: fried noodles. These tangy noodles are sometimes mixed with meat or squid and topped with seaweed, bright red pickled ginger, and sometimes even an egg!
Sweet and delicious, this pancake textured fish is usually filled with custard or sweet red bean paste.
A summer festival staple, takoyaki, literally fried octopus, are fried balls of batter filled with pieces of octopus inside. Toppings are similar those on yakisoba with the addition of takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito fish flakes. This may be one of my favorite snacks, but will I ever be patient enough not to burn myself? Probably not.
Choco Banana バナナチョコレート
If taiyaki couldn’t satisfy your sweet tooth then grab a banana on a stick! Dipped in chocolate and usually dashed with sprinkles, these bananas are a convenient treat. Don’t be surprised to see other snacks on a stick too.
When it comes to Japanese summer matsuri, there is almost too much to mention. From the beating of the taiko drums, the sense of community, to the bright floats and shrines carried through the streets, attending a festival might be one of the most memorable experiences you have during your stay in Japan.
If you want to learn more about different types of festivals that take places in the summer, be sure to check out Kyoto’s Gozan No Okuribi Festival, Aichi’s Dai-Chochin Festival, or even Edogawa’s Goldfish Festival. Have fun!