Popular Matsuri (Festivals) in Japan Throughout the Year

Matsuri, or festivals, are an integral part of Japanese culture, serving as a way to honor traditions and bring communities together. From vibrant parades to food stalls, matsuri brings people together and allows you to immerse in Japan’s rich history. While summer sees the most festivals in Japan held during the year, you can still find other unique festivals in other months. In this article, let’s delve into some of the most beloved matsuri in Japan, organized by month.

Jump to:

What is a matsuri?

Matsuri (祭り) is the Japanese word for festival. Matsuri is an important part of traditional Japanese culture. They may be celebrated for religious or secular reasons. These festivals are usually held to mark a specific event or to honor a deity or historical figure. Matsuri is characterized by having colorful decorations, festival food, and game stalls, and activities such as parades, processions, traditional music & dance performances, competitions, and more. Matsuri is an opportunity for the local communities to come together and celebrate their heritage and traditions. 

Popular Festivals & Matsuri in Japan Throughout The Year

Japan is famous for its vibrant and lively festivals and matsuri that are celebrated throughout the year. Here, we have compiled some of the most popular ones that you should attend. 


The winter months in Japan span from December to February, so there are not as many matsuri and festivals to celebrate. The end of December to the beginning of January in particular is the New Year period called “年末年始” (nenmatsu nenshi) when Japanese people go back to their hometowns to spend time with family and many shops and businesses will be closed. Still, there are some festivals from mid to end of January, many of which are focused on purging last year’s misfortunes to welcome a fresh new year. Here is some especially popular festivals or matsuri in Japan in January:

Tondo-yaki (とんど焼き)

Held after the New Year, Tondo-yaki is a traditional ceremony of burning used New Year decorations in a giant bonfire. Tondo-yaki events and festivals are held by shrines and temples all over Japan on different scales. It is believed that you will have good health throughout the year if the smoke blows over you.

Katae Sumitsuke Tondo Festival (片江墨つけとんど)

Kate Sumitsuke Tondo Festival is a unique celebration that combines Tondo-yaki and Sumitsuke. Sumitsuke (墨つけ) is the practice of painting one’s face black with ink. It is believed that ink can act as protection against evil, and painting your face with ink can protect you from sickness for a year as well as be safe from dangers at sea. During the event, housewives from each household carry a pot of ink and go around applying the ink on people. This festival is unique to Mihonoseki-cho, Matsue City in Shimane Prefecture. 

Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival (野沢温泉の道祖神祭り)

Also known as the “Nozawa Onsen Dosojin Matsuri” is a winter festival that takes place in Nozawa Onsen, Nagano prefecture on January 15th annually. It is one of the three biggest fire festivals in Japan. The festival’s highlight is setting alight a giant wooden structure made of hundreds of pine trees and the battle between the torch-bearers and guards of the structure. It is believed that the ceremony will purify the town and bring good luck for the coming year. 


February is considered the coldest month in Japan with many snow and ice festivals to celebrate.

Sapporo Snow Festival (札幌雪まつり)

Perhaps the most known winter festival in Japan, the Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is held annually in Sapporo, Hokkaido for a week in early to mid-February. The Sapporo Snow Matsuri features large snow sculptures, ice slides, and other snow-related activities. It attracts millions of visitors from around the world. Another highlight of the festival is the illuminated snow sculptures, as well as the food & drink stalls around. 

Setsubun Festivals 

Setsubun (節分) is a traditional Japanese celebration to welcome the coming of spring. It is celebrated the day before Risshun which is the first day of spring according to the old Japanese calendar, most of the time this means Setsubun is celebrated on February 3rd. The main tradition of Setsubun is Mamemaki (豆まき), the throwing of roasted soybeans to chase away evil spirits. This can be a home celebration or big festivals held at shrines & temples. Some of the most popular Setsubun Festivals in Japan are:

  • Yoshida Shrine Setsubun Festival 吉田神社節分祭 in Kyoto
  • Kushida Shrine Setsubun Big Fest 櫛田神社節分大祭 in Fukuoka
  • Sensoji Temple Setsubun Gathering 浅草寺の節分会 in Tokyo

Saidaiji Eyo (西大寺会陽)

Better known as the “Naked Festival (裸祭り; Hadaka Matsuri)” is literally, a unique and bizarre festival featuring thousands of men only wearing loincloths competing in a race to grab two sacred wooden talismans. The man who catches them is believed to receive good luck for the year. It is a hardcore race held in the coldest month, the intensity causes steam to rise from the competitors’ tangled bodies. The matsuri takes place in Saidaiji Kannonin Temple located in Okayama City, Okayama prefecture on the 3rd Saturday of February. It has a history of being celebrated for the past 500 years. As for the women, they can participate in Onna-Eyo (女会陽) where they wear white and purify themselves in water.  


March is the first month of spring when the weather starts to turn warmer.

hinamatsuri festival in japan

Hinamatsuri ひな祭り

Also known as Dolls Festival or Girls’ Day is a time to pray for the good health, prosperity, and happiness of young girls. The highlights of Hinamatsuri are the decorating of homes with Hina dolls and traditional Hinamatsuri food like chirazushi and arare. Popular Hinamatsuri festivals in Japan with large Hina doll displays are Katsuura Big Hinamatsuri (ビッグひな祭り) in Chiba, Hinamatsuri Sagemon Meguri (雛祭りさげもんめぐり) in Fukuoka, Awashima Shrine Hina-Nagashi in Wakayama, and more. 

Shuni-E Ceremony (修二会)

Shuni-E is a Buddhist ceremony for repentance. Nara Prefecture’s Todaiji Temple is famous for its Shuni-E ceremony which is held in the Nigatsu-do, aka February Hall, which is when the ceremony is held. The highlight of Todaiji’s Shuni-E Ceremony is Omizutori お水取り, water drawing. Buddhist monks will draw water from a well in which water only wells forth around that time. The water is offered to the Gods and then to temple visitors. Large torches are lit at night to purify the temple grounds. 


April is a popular time to visit Japan as cherry blossoms (sakura) are usually in full bloom early in the month. 

Cherry Blossom Festivals (桜まつり)

Cherry blossoms typically bloom in late March to early April in Japan, depending on the location and weather conditions. Many cities and towns across Japan have their own cherry blossom festivals, featuring illuminations, food stalls, and other events. Here are some especially popular ones:

  • Hirosaki Sakura Festival 弘前さくらまつり in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture 
  • Matsumae Sakura Festival 松前さくらまつり in Matsumae-cho, Hokkaido Prefecture
  • Oukasai 桜花祭 in Kotohira-gū in Kotohira, Kagawa Prefecture and Hirano Shrine in Kyoto Prefecture

Kanamara Matsuri (かなまら祭り)

The “Festival of the Steel Phallus” is celebrated every first Sunday of April in Kanayama Shrine at Kawasaki City in Kanagawa Prefecture. The festival celebrates fertility with various phallic-shaped candies, decorations, and even giant wooden phalluses that are carried through the streets on portable shrines. 

Kamakura Matsuri (鎌倉祭り)

A 1 week-long festival celebrated starting from the 2nd Sunday of April, the Kamakura Matsuri is an event featuring traditional music, the samurai spirit, and yabusame (horseback archery). A tragic love story performance about Shizuka Gozen is also held on the first day of the festival. 


Hakata Dontaku Festival (博多どんたく)

The Hakata Dontaku Festival is a lively festival held annually in Fukuoka City, featuring colorful parades, traditional music and dance performances, and food stalls. The festival is known for its unique traditions, including the “wasshoi” chant and a giant karakuri doll. Over 2 million people attend the festival each year.

Aoi Matsuri (葵祭)

Held on May 15th in Kyoto annually, the Aoi Matsuri is one of Kyoto’s 3 major festivals. The highlight of the festival is the procession of traditional Heian-period clothed people, including the Emperor and Empress, who travel from the Imperial Palace to the Shimogamo Shrine. 

Kanda Matsuri (神田祭)

The Kanda Matsuri is held in mid-May and is one of the 3 great festivals in Tokyo, the others we will introduce below. Celebrations are centered at Kanda Myojin Shrine with full-scale celebrations done biennially with smaller ‘shadow’ celebrations in between. The festival features a large procession of mikoshi, traditional music and dance performances, and the “miyairi” ceremony. It’s a rare opportunity to witness Shinto rituals and enjoy a festive atmosphere with food stalls and street vendors. The next grand-scale celebration will be in 2023.


Sanno Matsuri (山王祭)

The Sanno Matsuri is held in mid-June and is one of the 3 great festivals in Tokyo. The highlight of the festival is a parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) around the town that starts and ends at Hie Shrine. The procession includes around 500 people dressed in traditional colorful costumes. 

Want to attend a Japanese festival? This cheat sheet will list all the different items and clothing you will most definitely see on the site!

Yosaikoi Soran Festival (よさこいソーラン祭り)

The Yosakoi Soran Festival is an annual event held in Sapporo, Hokkaido, in early June. The festival features dance performances by teams from all over Japan, with participants dressed in colorful costumes and dancing to traditional and modern music. The only rules performers need to follow are using naruko (wooden hand clappers) as they dance, and using the phrase “Yaren soran!” in their song. 


Most matsuri festivals are held over the summer months, but the fireworks are what these months are most famous for. Major fireworks festivals are usually held from July to September. Many people wear Yukata (summer kimono) to summer festivals. 

Gion Matsuri (祇園祭)

The most famous matsuri in Japan is surely the grand Gion Matsuri in Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto. It is ranked as  The celebrations span the entire month of July, but the highlight is on July 17th when a parade of floats takes place. The festival originated over a thousand years ago as a religious ceremony to appease the gods during a plague outbreak. 

Tenjin Matsuri (天神祭)

The Tenjin Matsuri is held annually for 2 days on July 24th and 25th in Osaka. The festival is a celebration of Tenmangu Shrine which honours Sugawara Michizane, a scholar from the Heian period. The festival features a grand procession of boats on the Okawa River. On the 2nd day, a land procession is held as well as a spectacular fireworks display. It is one of the grandest summer and fireworks festivals in Japan.  

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (隅田川花火大会)

The Sumida River Fireworks Festival is an annual fireworks display held in Tokyo, Japan, typically on the last Saturday in July. The festival is one of the largest fireworks displays in Japan, attracting over a million spectators each year. The fireworks are launched from boats on the Sumida River, and the display is accompanied by traditional music and food stalls. 


Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (青森ねぶた奉り)

The Nebuta Matsuri is a traditional festival held annually in Aomori prefecture. The festival is held in early August and features large illuminated paper floats called Nebuta or Neputa that are paraded through the city. The floats are crafted in a variety of shapes and sizes, often depicting historical or mythical scenes. The Nebuta Matsuri is one of the largest festivals in the Tohoku region. Other Nebuta Matsuris are also held in cities all over Aomori like the Hirosaki Neputa Festival. 

Awa Odori Festival (阿波おどり)

The most famous of traditional dance festivals, the Awa Odori, is held annually in Tokushima as part of Obon festivities. Known as the “Fools’ Dance” from a famous saying, the festival features thousands of dances performing the Awa Odori dance with traditional music accompaniment. Food, drinks, traditional crafts, and festival games are part of the fun. 

Sendai Tanabata Matsuri (仙台七夕まつり)

Tanabata, the “Star Festival” that celebrates the romantic tale of star-crossed lovers, is usually celebrated on 7th July, but is instead celebrated on 6th to 8th August in Sendai. The Sendai Tanabata Matsuri is famous for being one of the grandest Tanaba celebrations with many huge Tanabata streamers hung from bamboo poles. It is one of the 3 greatest Tohoku festivals. 

Nagaoka Fireworks Festival (長岡花火)

The Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Niigata Prefecture with over 20,000 fireworks released is one of the biggest fireworks festivals in Japan. It is renowned for its Phoenix-shaped fireworks and giant huge fireworks. The festival is held over 2 days in early August and also includes cultural events. 

Omagari Fireworks Competition (大曲の花火)

The Omagari Fireworks Competition is an annual fireworks festival held in the city of Daisen in Akita prefecture, Japan. The festival, which has been held since 1910, features a competition between Japan’s top pyrotechnicians, who compete to create the most impressive and innovative fireworks displays. The festival typically takes place in late August or early September. It is also a rare event that features daytime fireworks made by using colored smoke paint. 


Suwa Lake Hanabi Festival (諏訪湖の花火)

Another fireworks festival competition Suwako Hanabi is held on Suwa Lake in Nagano. Around 18,000 fireworks are expected to be released drawing crowds of ten thousand from all over Japan. Similar to the Omagari Fireworks Competition, top pyrotechnicians of both traditional and modern fireworks will be participating. 

Kishiwada Danjiri Festival (岸和田だんじり祭り)

Held in the small town of Kishiwada in Osaka, the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri is usually held on the 3rd weekend of September. Centered around Kishiwada Castle, the festival is essentially a race of speed and skill where teams of local men accompanied by traditional music and dance performances race through the narrow streets carrying ornate wooden floats called “danjiri”. The festival dates back over 300 years and is considered one of the rowdiest festivals in Japan.  


The month of October is when autumn festivals start kicking off all over Japan, the focus of many being on harvest and cultural appreciation. 

Takayama Autumn Festival (秋の高山祭)

This festival is held annually in Takayama City in Gifu prefecture and is focused around Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine. The festival takes place over 2 days, October 9th and 10th, and features 11 elaborate parade floats that are ornately decorated. Considered one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan, it also features a night procession with parade floats illuminated with lanterns on the night of the 9th. 

kawagoe matsuri festivals in japan

Kawagoe Festival (川越氷川祭, Kawagoe Hikawa Matsuri)

Held annually in Kawagoe, a historic town located in Saitama Prefecture, just outside of Tokyo, this matsuri takes place on the third Saturday and Sunday of October and spans two days.

The festival is most notable for its Hikkawase, or musical battles between floats. Approximately 50 members from various neighborhoods come together during the Kawagoe Matsuri to showcase their festival floats as they parade through the downtown district. When these floats from different neighborhoods converge at an intersection or another designated spot, they rotate their float stages to face each other, and a spirited “battle” commences as they perform their traditional dances and music known as “Ohayashi.”

Festival of Ages (時代祭り)

Held on October 22 annually, the Jidai Matsuri features a parade of people dressed in traditional costumes representing different periods of Japanese history. The procession travels from the Imperial Palace to the Heian Shrine and is over 2 km long. The Jidai Matsuri is a celebration of Kyoto’s rich history and cultural heritage.


Yatsushiro Myōken Festival (八代妙見祭)

A festival with 400 years of history has its main festival activity, the “God Parade” listed on UNESCO. This festival is one of 3 major festivals in Kyushu, and is best known for its beautiful procession featuring lion dances, decorated horses, floats and mikoshi, and people dressed up as warriors. .   


In Japan, winter is the time for grand illumination events, the opening of ski seasons, and snow in northern areas. At the end of December, shrines and temples typically hold Year-End fairs, and on the last day of the year, is for Year-End festivities that do not include fireworks like many countries, but countdowns at temples & shrines and the ringing of temple bells. 


We have introduced a number of festivals in Japan throughout the year. Take the opportunity to attend some of them when you can, it is an experience you will never forget, and one you will love doing again.

Want to improve your Japanese skills? Start learning Japanese with us!

What are matsuri in Japan?

Matsuri is traditional festivals in Japan that are celebrated throughout the year to honor cultural, historical, or religious events. They typically involve colorful processions, performances, music, dance, and food stalls.

When do matsuri take place in Japan?

Festivals in Japan are held year-round, with each season offering its own unique festivals. Some matsuri are associated with specific dates, such as New Year’s festivals in January, while others are based on the lunar calendar, such as the famous Cherry Blossom festival in spring.

Are matsuri only for tourists or can locals also participate?

Matsuri are typically community-based events, and locals play an important role in organizing and participating in the festivities. While tourists are welcome to observe and enjoy the matsuri, it’s important to respect the local customs and traditions.

What are some famous festivals in Japan?

Some well-known festivals in Japan include Gion Matsuri, Takayama Matsuri, Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, Sapporo Snow Festival, Tenjin Matsuri, Kanda Matsuri, Kanamara Matsuri, and Tanabata Matsuri.

Test your Japanese level!

Do a self-test to see which course fits you.

Check your level