13 Jun 2019 in Have Fun
From world-famous matsuri to world-class rock, we unpick the best of Japan’s summer festivals.
Planning a summer trip to Japan? Then why not sample the unique atmosphere of one of its many sun-soaked festivals?
Some of the biggest and best-known matsuri (shrine festivals) are held in July and August. Spectacular firework shows light up the sky all over the country.
And outdoor music festivals attract some of the best rock and pop bands in the world.
Many festivals are easily accessible from Tokyo and Kyoto, while others are worth a trip in their own right.
Tokyo: take your pick
Tokyo is a great base for exploring numerous summertime festivals. Among the most famous is the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, held on the last Saturday of July.
Over 20,000 fireworks are launched, and around a million spectators crowd Sumida park, the nearby bridges and surrounding area to gaze at a 90-minute extravaganza of bangs and bright lights over the Tokyo skyline.
The atmosphere is electric, the show mesmerizing, and it’s worth planning your trip around this event alone.
If rock music is more your style, head to eastern Tokyo for Summer Sonic, a 3-day multi-stage festival in mid-August. The event is held simultaneously in Tokyo and Osaka, with bands playing both venues on different days. Previous headliners have included Coldplay, Radiohead and The Black Eyed Peas.
This year, the main stage welcomes Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Chainsmokers and The 1975. Overlooking Tokyo Bay, the venue features an immense main stage and attracts 40,000 festival-goers daily.
A more quirky event is Asagaya Tanabata Matsuri in early August. For 5 days, the shopping arcades of western Asagaya are adorned with huge papier-mâché likenesses of cartoon figures and celebrities.
While classic Disney and Ghibli characters are assured a place, many figures are topical, with the likes of Donald Trump, Johnny Depp and Spiderman recently honoured with a pulped paper reincarnation.
Where to based yourself for these festivals?
Check into HOSHINOYA Tokyo for authentic ryokan hospitality combined with luxury comfort and a prime city centre location.
Alternatively, head to Hoshino Resorts OMO5 Tokyo Otsuka for a unique urban experience, with local guides taking you places most visitors never get to see.
Kyoto: monumental matsuri
From Kyoto, you’ll have easy access to several world-class festivals, including the Osaka version of Summer Sonic.
Also in Osaka is the spectacular Tenjin Matsuri, held every year on July 24-25. Proceedings kick off with a parade honouring Sugawara Michizane, the deity of scholarship. On day 2, the streets are taken over by a procession featuring costumed drummers, bunraku puppets, umbrella dancers, and much more.
At around 6pm, the procession reaches the Okawa River and the entire cavalcade takes to the water on a series of boats, many of them lit with flaming oil fires. The grand finale is a frenetic firework show set against fiery boats, all spectacularly reflected in the river.
Back in Kyoto, the famed Gion Matsuri runs for the entire month of July. The centrepiece is Yamaboko Junko, a grand procession of lavishly-decorated, monumental floats.
On several evenings, Kyoto’s centre is closed to traffic and transformed into a big street party. The festival is also a chance to visit private residences, with many owners opening up their homes.
From Kyoto, you also have easy access to the Lake Biwa Great Fireworks Festival, a 10,000-firework extravaganza played out against water fountains.
Where to base yourself for Kyoto and Osaka festivals?
HOSHINOYA Kyoto, where forested hills and river views make the perfect place to relax after festival frenzy.
Beyond Tokyo and Kyoto
In the north of Honshu, the world-famous Nebuta Festival is held August 2 to 7. The centrepiece is a parade of exuberant floats depicting mythical characters, all expertly crafted in painted washi paper and spectacularly lit up at night.
Taiko drummers and flute players add plenty of atmosphere, while hundreds of haneto dancers energetically strut their stuff. The festival is a great excuse to explore this beautiful coastal region.
Book yourself into Hoshino Resorts Aomoriya to experience ryokan luxury and sample the famed local hospitality.
Finally, Fuji Rock is one of Japan’s biggest rock festivals. This huge multi-stage event has an impressive line-up for 2019, including The Cure, Thom Yorke and The Chemical Brothers.
Despite its name, it’s held at the Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata Prefecture, hours from Mt. Fuji. It’s just over a 3-hour drive from Tokyo or you can book into the mountain calm of HOSHINOYA Karuizawa to explore the surrounding area.