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Planning Your First Japan Trip, Part 4: Festivals!

April 19, 2010

 Click here for Part 3.

Saijo Festival

SaijoFestival, Ehime Prefecture

Attending a festival is a great way to see an aspect of Japan that is inexpensive, unforgettable, and uniquely Japanese.

Many festivals, such as Kyoto’s Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) have a historical theme. Some, such the Kashima Gatalympic (Mudflat “Olympics”), focus on good, clean fun. Many festivals involve mikoshi (portable shrines); some just parade them through the streets, while others smash them into each other. There’s even one where a mikoshi gets tossed down a flight of stone steps; it’s on my bucket list.


Most festivals are annual, but often the dates shift around in ways that are hard to predict. Even worse, some of the festival dates you get from English-language web sites and guidebooks are flat-out wrong.

If you can read a little Japanese, such as the kanji for month (月), date (日), and the days of the week (日月火水木金土), you can check the official Japanese sites for the festivals. These tend to be updated each year around six months before the festival happens, while the English-language sites (if they exist) are updated much later.


If the festival is one of the most famous ones, such as the Takayama Spring Festival or the summer festivals in Akita and Aomori, you may need to book your accommodations as far as six months in advance if you want to stay in the town where the festival is. Otherwise, a month or two in advance should be plenty.


The Japan Times monthly Tokyo festival listing is thorough and reliable.

The Japan National Tourist Office has good information about some of the better-known festivals throughout the country.

For information about some of the more offbeat festivals, I recommend the Ampontan blog and Quirky Japan. Also, the Kashima Gatalympics has its own site.

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