You can never run out of festivals, known as “matsuri”, in Japan, given its vast and diverse culture, from historical and sentimental to unusual, such as celebrating penises? If you’re visiting the country in the latter half of the year, here’s a list of festivals you might want to include in your itinerary. 

Gion Matsuri

  • Date: Month of July
  • Location: Kyoto
  • Official link here

Dubbed the most famous festival in Japan, celebrations for the Gion Matsuri last an entire month, with the main events happening on July 17 and 24. You can expect grand processions of floats, known as Yamaboko Junko, and festivities to last into the night. While other parades have mesmerizing floats, the sheer size of these mechanisms, some up to 25 meters tall, makes the Gion Matsuri stand above the rest. Weighing up to 12 tons and pulled on human-sized wheels, these floats are sure to leave you in awe. 

57th Katsushika Noryo Fireworks Festival

  • Date: July 29
  • Location: Katsushika City, Tokyo
  • More info here

Looking for an authentic taste of Tokyo aside from food? Check out the Katsushika Noryo Fireworks Festival featuring a century-old tradition of walking through old-fashioned streets and enjoying a gorgeous fireworks display.  

Nebuta Matsuri

  • Date: August 2-7
  • Location: Aomori
  • Official link here

Here’s another chance for you to bask in dramatic human-shaped floats called Nebuta as they parade down the streets of Aomori. The main theme of this festival is ancient warlords, historical characters, and famous kabuki of the past. Towards the evening of August 7, the Nebutas will then be placed on boats and ferried around the Aomori Bay while a fantastic fireworks display happens in the background. 

The 35th Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival

  • Date: August 5
  • Location: Osaka
  • Official link here

This year’s theme is “dawn of a new era, dancing from the sky.” Local volunteer staff, organizations, store owners, and companies in the area are putting their efforts and resources together to create a show in the skies, commemorating everyone’s love for Osaka. 

Awa Odori Festival

  • Date: August 12-15
  • Location: Tokushima, Shikoku
  • Official link here

The Awa Dance has gained a reputation across the globe as one of Japan’s most spectacular traditional dance performances. Dating back to 1586, this event is a must-see if you’re in Tokushima. 

Kyoto Gozan Okuribi, aka Daimonji Festival

  • Date: August 16
  • Location: Kyoto
  • More info here

Originally a Buddhist event of a memorial service to the spirits of ancestors, this festival transformed into something appreciated by locals and tourists alike. Many believe that on August 16, the dead who visited their living loved ones for the Obon period will go back to the spiritual world. Hence, five bonfires, called the Gozan Okuribi, are lit on five mountainsides of Kyoto as a sendoff to the spirits, at the same time, creating a mesmerizing sight against the dark surroundings. 

Takayama Autumn Festival

  • Date: October 9-10
  • Location: Takayama, Gifu
  • More info here

Yet another of Japan’s biggest and most beautiful festivals is the Takayama Autumn celebrations which was even registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2016. You can enjoy the skilled craftsmanship of the Hida masters in the floats, which are covered with lanterns so they shine brighter at night. 

Kurama Fire Festival

  • Date: October 22
  • Location: Kyoto
  • More info here

If you like things hot, then this fire-based festival should be added to your itinerary while in Kyoto. Locals hold giant flaming torches, some weighing up to 80kgs, in a procession across the village of Kurama. They head on to the Sanmon Gate, which is the pinnacle of the festival. There, a sacred rope is cut, and selected men take two shrines to be showcased around the village. 

Jidai Matsuri

  • Date: October 22
  • Location: Kyoto
  • More info here

Here’s another festival in Kyoto celebrating its history and culture. The highlight is a five-hour-long procession of volunteers dressed in traditional Japanese clothing. It is very much like a moving museum of Japanese fashion and history. 

Asakusa Torinoichi Fair

  • Date: November 6, 16, and 28
  • Location: Tokyo
  • Official link here

Torinoichi is a festival for the day of the rooster, based on the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. People visit the Asakusa shrines to pray for success, good luck, and prosperity for their businesses or careers. It is believed that this tradition has been in practice since the Edo period. 

Chichibu Yomatsuri

  • Date: December 2-3
  • Location: Saitama
  • Official link here

The Chichibu night festival is also considered one of the three most popular float festivals in Japan, dating back 300 years ago. Volunteers pull huge floats featuring kabuki performers while fireworks light up the night sky. 

There you have it, the biggest festivals happening across Japan until the end of the year. Check them out if you find yourself in the area and catch a glimpse of Japan’s unique culture and history.