Festivals in the Land of the Rising Sun

by Akhil Kalepu

Jun 27, 2016

Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan © S35ktmo | Dreamstime

Trends / Unique Itineraries & Tours

Japan has a fascinating culture best experienced through the country’s many festivals. Here are six you should check out while visiting the land of the rising sun.


Obon Festival, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan © MIKI Yoshihito | Flickr

Obon Festival, Sapporo © MIKI Yoshihito | Flickr



Otherwise known as Bon, this Japanese tradition originates as a Buddhist-Confucian custom that became a tradition of family reunion. For three days, people are supposed to visit their ancestral homes along with the spirits of their relatives.


Suwa Onbashira, Nagano, Japan © T hino | Flickr

Suwa Onbashira, Nagano © T hino | Flickr


Suwa Onbashira

Onbashira translates to “the honored pillars,” referring to the 1,200-year-old tradition of riding enormous tree trunks down the mountains of Nagano. The festival happens every six years and has a reputation of being the most dangerous cultural event in Japan.


Kanamara Matsuri, Kawasaki, Japan © Takanori | Flickr

Kanamara Matsuri, Kawasaki © Takanori | Flickr


Kanamara Matsuri

The “Festival of the Steel Phallus” is thrown by Kawasaki’s local penis-venerating shrine. In modern times, the event is used to raise STD awareness and money for HIV research.


Sapporo Snow Festival, Japan © Chun Kit Ho | Dreamstime 38918476

Sapporo Snow Festival © Chun Kit Ho | Dreamstime


Sapporo Snow Festival

In 1950, six high-school students began the tradition of building snow statues in Odori Park. Japanese military from the nearby Makomanai base joined in five years later, giving way to the Sapporo Snow Festival.


Close-Up Cherry Blossom Macro © Joshkho | Dreamstime 12617032

© Joshkho | Dreamstime



Cherry blossom festivals can be found all over the world, with many of America’s trees gifted from Japan. The annual bloom is closely forecasted by the Japanese Meteorological Agency.


The Parade of Hanagasa, Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan © Dtkql2009 | Dreamstime

The Parade of Hanagasa, Gion Matsuri, Kyoto © Dtkql2009 | Dreamstime


Gion Matsuri

Gion Matsuri is one of the most important festivals in Japan, taking its name from Kyoto’s Gion District. It originates from a purification ritual done to appease the gods for protection against floods and earthquakes.




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