Overview of Japanese Festivals and Matsuri

1906 words (8 pages) Essay in Cultural Studies

07/08/18 Cultural Studies Reference this

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Japanese Festivals are the traditional occasions. They gather people to celebrate shrines deity, four seasons or historical events. People sing and dance to express their hopes and appreciation. “Matsuri” is the name of Japanese Festivals. The festival can be held for several days. There are lots of Japanese Festivals, but they usually have the traditional ways to celebrate. Procession is one of the most important things during those matsuri that celebrates shrine’s kami(deity). People carry deity and go around the town. It is the only period that deity leaves the temple in the year. There are entertainments during the festival. People wear specific traditional costume. They play music with Taiko(Japanese drum). Fireworks light up the matsuri too; there are always fireworks during the festival. The Japanese festivals are energetic and powerful.

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The Japanese Festivals are held also for the four seasons. In Spring, people celebrate for the rebirth and awakening of the new life. In summer, people thought it’s a bad season that brings humid weather with epidemic, so they hold festival to scare the evil spirit away. In autumn, people celebrate for the mellow foods from the farmer. The festivals of thanksgiving are held. In winter, people celebrate for the new year.

Major Japanese Festivals

In Japan, there are hundreds of matsuri. Some of them are local and unknown, and some of them are famous, which even foreigners come to Japan to feel these matsuri. In the following, the report will introduce several major Japanese Festivals.

Gion Matsuri

“A living symbol of Kyoto’s 1,200 years of rich, colorful history” – the description of Kyoto Visitor’s guide.

The Gion Matsuri is a festival in Kyoto. It’s one of the best festival of Kyoto. It’s in the top three matsuri in Japan. Japanese also put this matsuri into the top three prettiest matsuri in Japan. It is the most famous and biggest Japanese Festival, which is held for one month. The Gion Matsuri is from July 1st to 29th every year in Tasaka-jinja Shrine, Gion-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City.

The Gion Matsuri Festival is above 1100 years old. In the year 869 A.D., Kyoto was suffering from epidemics, floods, fires and earthquakes. To pray for the end of plaque and placate the gods, procession of the Yasaka shrine began. That was the first festival, the men carried numbers of wooden floats to please the gods. The plague soon ended, so the festival became popular. People did the procession every year. Soon, it became the festival with music, dance, comic plays, and artistic treasures. People started to make giant floats with beautiful decoration.

The elaborate floats are the highlight of the Gion Matsuri. There are 32 floats, which are divided into two types, yama and hoko. Yama floats are about 6 meter and weight about 1400kg. It shows the scenes from Japanese history and mythology with bear pine trees, shrines, and mannequins. The hoko are massive 2-storied, nearly 10-ton combinations of music hall and museum that are hauled by teams of up to 50 men. Hoko are giant floats, which are about 25 meter and 12,000kg on large wooden wheels and pulled by 50 men. People describe them as a “mobile art museums.”

During the parade, there are people wearing tradition costume and playing drums and bells. The are seated on the floats. Some dolls are put on the floats. The floats are displayed form the 14th to the 16th , the main event of the Gion Matsuri. The displays are full of food stands and drink vendors. Traditional Japanese Festival Music is played. The climax of the Gion Matsuri is that the boy, standing on the top of the floats, uses sword to cut the rope that represents bad luck. This event is the most important, so the boy can’t mess up. He needs to practice for 3 months before this event. With the Gion Matsuri, the city is flourish. Today, Japanese is still using their traditional way to pray for a auspicious year.

Sapporo Snow Festival

The Sapporo Snow Festival is one of Japan’s largest winter events. It holds for 7 days, starting in the second week of February. It takes place in Odori Site, Susukino Site,and Satorando Site in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. About 2 millions of visitors come to this festival every winter. Hundreds of beautiful snow statues and ice sculptures that made by artists from around the world line up on the Odori Park, the community Dome Tsudome, and the main street in Suskino.

The Snow Festival started in 1950 with six local high school students. They built six snow statues in Odori Park. In 1955, the Japan Self-Defense Forces built the first massive snow sculpture. This made the Snow Festival become famous. In 1974, there began to have the International Snow Statue Competition. Year by year, it became the Sapporo Snow Festival. Till today, It is the 62nd Sapporo Snow Festival.

The main site of this festival is in Odori Park. It is 1.5 kilometer long. The snow statues and ice sculptures make this place a snow museum. There are about 400 statues in total every year. You can see many creative and realistic works. There are not just statues. Skating Rink, Snowboard Straight Jumping Platform,The Slide, and Bush-walking on Skis are also the events in Snow Festival. The snow festival light up Sapporo. The whole world can see Japanese’s creativity. The art of snow and ice shows how Japanese appreciates this season.


Tanabata is known as the star festival. It is a nationwide festival in Japan. It takes place in the seventh day of the seventh month each year in Japan. It is originated from a Chinese legend in 2,000 years ago. There were two stars, Altair and Vega, the lovers. They were separated by the Milky Way and allowed to see each other in only the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, so every region will have different date of this festival. This story spread to Japan in the 8th centery. Tanabata is celebrated on July 7th or August 7th in Japan,which is around the seventh day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar.

The most famous event in Japan for celebrating Tanabata is to write your wishes on a piece of paper, and hang that piece of paper on a bamboo tree. The reason Japanese does this is that they think the meeting of Altair and Vega will bring luck. In some place, people put lantern on the bamboo and let it float on the river.

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The Tanabata festival in Sendai is most famous in Japan, which is held from August 6th to 8th. People wear yukata(the Japanese garment) and watch the fireworks. They fireworks is about two hours non-stop. 12,000 of fireworks will be shot and light up Sendai.

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is known as one of the most famous matsuri in Japan. This is a summer festival held in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture from August 2 to 7. The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is one of the greatest three matsuri in the Tohoku region, which are the “Sendai Tanabata Matsuri”, the “Akita Kanto Matsuri” and the “Aomori Nebuta matsuri”. Every year, more than 3,000,000 people come to see this matsuti .

Aomori Nebuta matsui is a parade of colorful float lanterns called “Nebuta” with Japanese drum and dancers called “haneto” from all over the world. Usually Nebutas are shape of samurai warriors, but is can be shape of any historical people and legend characters. Reasons that this msaturi is very popular are that rhyme of drums and sounds of bamboo flute make people to feel happy and this parade is free to join so anyone can go up there and join the parade and dance along with those music.

No one knows the theory of the origin of this matsuri, but there are two possible theories about the origin of this festival. One of the theories is that in the 8th Century in Aomori, there was one Shogun called “Sakanoue no Tamuramaro”. He wanted to expand his territory so he ordered his army to create something large and that looks like human to scare his enemy. Those large creatures called “Nebuta”. Place where he used Nebuta to scare people is now called Aomori city and that’s why some people believe this can be one of the theories.

Next theory is that development from “Tanabata” festival of China. During the “Tanabata” festival people light up a candle inside of toro that made by wooden frame and paper and float it on the water. As time passed, this toro became bigger and bigger and it became the unique shape like today. Today, the Nebuta can be 9 meter wide, 5 meters high and more than four tons of weight. It is not easy to make because it needs more than three months to create it and some of the Nebuta cost even more than $200,000.

Hakata Dontaku Festival

Hakata Dontaku Festival is one of the most famous and well known festivals and also one of the largest festivals in Japan. Every year, more than 2,000,000 people came to see this festival from all over the world. This festival takes place only for two day on May 3 and 4 in Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Hakata Dontaku Festival used to call as “Matsubayashi Festival” that started in Kyoto in the time of Muromachi period (1333-1568). During that time this festival is for only farmers and people in towns to greet their landowner and leader as a New Year’s greeting.

Name of the festival changed to Dontaku from Matsubayashi during the Edo period (1603-1868). During Edo period Japan let people trade with all other countries because of this many people from other countries came to Japan and gave Japanese people to culture of other countries. Many culture from different counties mixed with former Japanese culture. Word Dontaku came from Dutch word “zondag”, which means holiday. Main event of this festival is Dontaku parade which is 1230 meter long. Any one can join to this parade and dance freely. This festival is very closely related with Japanese’s three good fortune gods called “Fukurokujyu”, “Ebisu” and “Daikokuten”. During parade of time festival people need to wear custom as those gods.


Festivals and matsuri are very important things for Japanese and those are part of their culture that has been passed so many years. Japanese festivals affect Japanese life a lot because many people will back to their home to see their regions’ festivals even they are busy and that’s time to see their parents. So festivals for Japanese are not only time to enjoy, but also backing to their home place and good time to spend time with their parents. For the worldwide, Japanese Festival is unique to every other countries festival. The Japanese Festivals usually have long history. And they are held every year. Form this part, we can see how Japanese organizes well in these things. Japanese concentrate on every little part on the festival, from music, clothes, decorations, to foods. That’s why they can attract that much foreigners to visit their country.

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