Matsuri (Festival)

More than 100,000 Matsuri or Japanese local festivals are held in a year in Japan. Japanese love Matsuri to unite with friends, family, or their communities. Most Matsuri are held in summer and it would be a great experience to visit one! This page would introduce some basic information of Marsuri.

Interesting Parts

At Japanese festivals, rows of stalls called ‘demise’ or ‘yatai’ are lined up. Immerse yourself in various cuisine at a great local atmosphere. You can also enjoy games such as ring tosses, shooting games, and goldfish scooping games.

Festivals with fireworks are very popular and many wear yukata (light cotton kimono) to enjoy summer air. Fireworks has a long history in Japan that originally thought it could drive away bad spirits. 

Bon Odori or Bon Dancing is a traditional folk dance initially performed during Obon, an unique holiday to commemorate ancestors’ spirits. Bon Odori has been danced to calm ancestors’ spirits yet many also dance just for fun at festivals these days. 

At some festivals, local people carry Mikoshi or a portable shrine to worship gods. It is believed that a deity in Mikoshi purifies its hometown by being carried around.

Major Matsuri in Tokyo

1. Sanja Matsuri

Many Japanese feel the beginning of summer by the famous Sanja Matsuri at Asakusa Shrine. In just three days, about 1.8 million people visit the downtown Asakusa to enjoy Matsuri. Cultural dances are also performed frequently at the shrine.

October 17th – 18th, 2020 ※Matsuri is postponed to October in 2020 due to the COVID-19.

2. Kanda Matsuri

Kanda Matsuri is one of the three great Matsuri of Edo, current Tokyo and is also one of the three major Matsuri of Japan. It is held at Kanda Myojin Shrine every odd numbered years for about a week and about one hundred thousand people visit. 

Middle of May in odd numbered years

3. Sanno Matsuri

Sanno Matsuri held at Hie Jinja Shrine every even numbered years is one of the three great Matsuri of Edo, current Tokyo. In odd numbered years, Kanda Matsuri takes place. Enjoy various food from rows of stalls!  

June 7th – 17th, 2020

4. Mitama Matsuri

Mitama Matsuri started in 1947 is held at the Yasukuni Shrine. About thirty thousand Chochin (paper lanterns) are displayed and beautifully lit up from 6:00 pm. Rituals to soothe the spirit are held at the main shrine at night during the Matsuri.

Middle of July

5. Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri

Fukagawa Hashiman Matsuri held at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine every year is one of the great matsuri of Edo, current Tokyo. Five hundred thousand people visit the Matsuri also called ‘water festival.’ Viewers can splash water to those who carry the portable shrines to purify them!

August 9th – 13th

Major Matsuri in Tokyo

Matsuri’s origin comes from a Japanese myth called ‘Iwato-gakure’. In this story, Amaterasu Omikami, the sun goddess, hid herself in the heavenly cave rock because of Susano’s, the god ruling the world, outrageous behavior. Since the sun goddess hid herself, the world became dark with no lights. Myriad gods had difficulties with living in the dark world so they thought about the way how Amaterasu Omikami can come out from the heavenly cave. Gods decided to hold Matsuri (festival) and Amaterasu Omikami finally came out when it got very lively. The world got the light again. This story is told to be the origin of Matsuri.

In the past, people considered they can show their appreciation to the gods by Matsuri. Matsuri was the way to send messages to the gods. Japan’s famous culture, sumo and Bon Odori (one of dancing styles) were also the part of Matsuris then. During Edo period, religious aspect of Matsuri faded gradually and people started enjoying Matsuri as a pop culture. However, the number of Matsuri during Meiji Period declined a lot due to the decree of Separation of Shinto and Buddhism. Buddhism’s activities relating to gods became prohibited, for it was considered that Buddhism must appreciate only Buddha and not gods. Thus, many Matsuris held by buddhists disappeared. After the World War, finally the declaration of separating Shinto and Buddhism faded and the Japanese started to reconstruct the culture of Matsuris. Since people could gather with families and friends, Matsuri has been the symbol of peace then.

The main characteristic of Japanese Matsuris is ‘diversity’. Our distinctive way to view religion are reflected to Matsuris. World’s religions are Monotheism or polytheism usually. Even Japanese views are polytheism, we consider every single things has gods. The nature, mountains, water, ocean, or even artificial cups or clothes can be what we worship. That’s why there are numerous styles of Matsuris in Japan. For example, at northern area, people act namahage (looks like a monster…) crazily with knives on their hands to drive away the bad spirits. At south, Matsuri that Okinawa lion dogs ward off evils are held. Diverse Matsuris show unique aspects of Japan to you!