Japanese festivals can be quiet, laid-back events. However, this is rare. It's far more common for matsuri to be loud, rough, excited and wild. They can even be dangerous.
Right of PassageThere are an estimated 100,000 festivals in Japan annually. Practically everyone in the country attends at least one festival each year. A large number of Japanese people directly participate in these matsuri — carrying mikoshi (portable shrine) or performing dance routines.
Matsuri participation is considered a right of passage for Japanese young people. For example, carrying a mikoshi is widely considered an important ritual — something that every Japanese person should do at least once.
Local FestivalsFestivals in Japan can attract more than a million participants. However, the vast majority of
festivals are small local festivals that attract 1000 people or less.
Japan has over 100,000 temples and shrines spread throughout the country. Many of these hold at least one festival each year. Local festivals help to build a sense of community. It's where neighbors meet to catch up on local gossip.
Sakura FestivalsIn Japan, sakura bloom in early spring. It's everyone's favorite time of year. Sakura festivals pop up all over the country. People enjoy food and drink under Japan's favorite tree.
Dance FestivalsIn Japan, traditional dance festivals are fading out in favor of modern dances that are energetic and lighthearted.
Dances such as Yosakoi and Awa Odori (dance of fools) are based on traditional dances but have modern elements. They've become popular all over the country because they're addictive and fun.
Big dance festivals such as the Tokushima Awa Odori and Sapporo Yosakoi Soran festival are extremely lively.
Snow FestivalsThe Japanese tend to believe that adversity represents opportunity. If nature gives the Japanese snow — they make snowmen.
Many northern communities have developed successful snow festivals (yuki matsuri) that contribute to the local economy in the slow months of winter.
Snow festivals may feature kamakura (Japanese igloos), ice sculpture competitions, ice bars, food, music and snowboarding competitions.
Fire FestivalsJapanese culture has a strange relationship with fire. Japan has had more catastrophic fires
than most countries. However, Japan regularly celebrates fire. Fire is a common theme of festivals.
Fire festivals tend to involve dangerous feats with fire. In some cases, an entire mountain is burned. In Japanese there's a single word for burning down a mountain — yamayaki.
Dangerous FestivalsSome Japanese festivals are intentionally dangerous. Many Japanese long for the bygone
age of Samurai — when danger and action were a common part of Japanese life.
Dangerous festivals provide a modern venue for those who feel they have the samurai spirit.
For example, the Suwa Onbashira matsuri in Nagano prefecture involves riding four 3,000 kilogram (6,600 pound) logs down a mountain. The festival often claims the lives of participants and spectators.
Festival FoodsTravelling food vendors travel from matsuri to matsuri all over Japan. They set up food stalls and sell traditional Japanese festival foods. It's a lucrative business. Festivals attract thousands (or even millions) of hungry customers. It's widely believed that organized crime is involved in the business.
YukataIn summer, everyone (most people) wear traditional Japanese summer kimono (yukata) to festivals. If you attend a festival it's recommended to wear yukata.
If you choose to wear yukata make sure to wear it properly or you'll look like the dead.