Spring Festivals in Japan

Sydney Event Alyssa Low Alyssa Low

G'Day Japan! / Culture / Spring Festivals in Japan

Every spring, Japan expects an influx of tourists who hope to catch a glimpse of the popular cherry blossom flowers, or sakura, that adorn the country. However, there is much more to Japanese spring than sakura. So, why not attend some of these other festivals that occur during the Japanese Springtime if you are in Japan for the sakura season?

 

Hanami, Sakura-viewing

 

Where: various, across Japan

When: April (seasonal)

 

The famous sakura season usually only lasts for two weeks in Japan. Hanami is an essential part of enjoying this season in spring and is perhaps the most popular activity for locals around this period. You will find most people having picnic gatherings under the sakura trees. If you’re lucky, some places may also be lit up in the evening, making a beautiful sight when combined with a castle, temple or shrine!

Photo by Daniel Pons via flickr

Hanami is for everyone and is a must-do activity when in Japan during the sakura season. All you have to do is find a spot and bring items for a picnic while you admire the breathtaking sight. To do so, visit this page to find out more about the sakura in general, and where to find prime Hanami locations.

Be sure to look out for limited edition desserts and snacks too, such as Sakura-themed drinks from Starbucks, McDonald’s Sakura Menu and various sakura-flavoured KitKats. Local desserts also include Hanami Dango, Sakura Cookies and Sakura Mochi.

 

Hinamatsuri, Dolls Festival/ Girls’ Day

 

Where: Tomisaki Shrine, Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture

When: end February to 3 March

 

Hinamatsuri celebrates the young girls of Japan. Families usually display hina dolls at the end of February, which symbolises femininity with hopes that the daughter will grow to become as graceful as the dolls. While this festival is mainly celebrated at home with traditional delicacies, some Japanese communities continue to throw huge celebrations, with the largest one in Katsuura.

Photo via nippon.com

It may seem odd that a small coastal fishing village hosts perhaps the largest Hinamatsuri festival, but it’s definitely worth a shot if you’re in Chiba. The 30,000 dolls laid out at the Tomisaki Shrine are a stunning sight to see. On the day of the festival, doll processions and a children’s dance parade are also held. In the evening, the 6,000 dolls at Katsuura City Art and Cultural Exchange Centre are also illuminated.

Wander around town and you may even stumble upon a few stores selling these handmade dolls. Take a close look at each one and you’ll understand why the price may put you off at first — the amount of detail put into each doll makes each one a work of art!

 

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A post shared by つるし飾りをめぐる旅 (@love_hanging_decorations) on Mar 13, 2020 at 5:16pm PDT

 

Takayama Festival (Spring)/ Sanno Festival

 

Where: Hie Shrine, Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture

When: twice a year, once in spring (14-15 April) and autumn (9-10 October)

 

Held in the old town of Takayama, the Takayama festival is always held at the Hie Shrine, also known as Sanno Shrine (hence the name of the festival), which has long been associated with the protection of Tokyo. The festival dates back to the 16th and 17th century and the one in Spring is held to pray for good harvest.

Photo by Takashi Muramatsu via flickr

There are massive displays of 12 sacred festival floats during the spring festival (yatai), which are scattered across town, along with portable shrines in which Shinto gods are carried around the city during the parade display. These yatai are elaborately handmade and decorated with elaborate drapery and special ornaments. On the night of both festivals, lanterns are lit on each float and are paraded for spectators to see.

The festival is a popular one even amongst locals, with thousands of locals in attendance every year, making it a really authentic event. You’re more than welcome to join them in a musical performance with marionettes (karakuri) attached on top of the three largest floats too!

 

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A post shared by 𝕊𝕦𝕥𝕥𝕖𝕟 (@sutten_my) on Oct 9, 2019 at 9:32pm PDT

 

Inuyama Festival

Where: Haritsuna Shrine, Inuyama, Aichi Prefecture

When: first weekend of April

 

First held in 1635, the Inuyama Festival is a richly historic religious celebration where the local deity is worshipped. It was one of the 33 float festivals that were added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list on 30th November 2016.

Photo via flickr

The festival includes unique 3-layered floats weighing upwards of five tons and can be several stories tall, with a mechanical puppet on the top of each one. Karakuri performances are performed throughout the day, accompanied by traditional music of flutes and taiko drums, all of which have been been passed down since the Edo period.

At night, the floats are each illuminated by 365 paper lanterns and are navigated through the town lined with sakura trees. This would be an ideal opportunity to enjoy Hanami and the festival. Just imagine the beautiful sight of sakura dotting the Inuyama Castle combined with the floats!

 

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🌸犬山祭・本楽「縫英」車山巡行🏯 🌸Inuyama Festival. 🏯. . 車山と犬山城と桜の共演です。 It is the costarring of Yama float, Inuyama Castle and cherry blossoms. 針綱神社 / 愛知県犬山市北古巻 Haritsuna-jinja shrine / Kitakoken, Inuama city, Aichi prf., Japan Photo on 7.Apr.2019 #犬山祭 #犬山祭り 針綱神社 #犬山城 #犬山城下町 #犬山 #愛知県 #車山 #山車祭り #山車 #祭り #祭 #桜 #囃子 #城 #山車 #東京カメラ部 #写真好きな人と繋がりたい #inuyama #inuyamafestival lantern #cherryblossoms aichi #festival festivalmusic #igresjp #icu_japan #float #loves_united_life #lovers_nippon #wu_japan #team_japan_ #wu_japan #wp_photo_club #wp_japan #japan_daytime_view

A post shared by 祭り広場 京都🇯🇵JAPAN Festival Plaza🗾 (@amano.jun) on Apr 12, 2019 at 3:21pm PDT

 

Omizutori/ Shunie, Water-drawing Festival

 

Where: Todaiji Temple, Nara Prefecture

When: 1-14 March

 

Omizutori is a collection of Buddhist repentance rituals that has been held annually for the past 1250 years. The symbolism of the ceremony is to cleanse people of their sins and usher in the spring of the new year.

Photo via flickr

Large fire torches of six to eight metres and of around 40kg are lit after sunset and are carried up to the balcony around the temple. The pine torches are held over the crowd as the flame’s burning embers are thought to bless onlookers with a safe year. The whole ritual lasts around 20 to 40 minutes each, except on the last day where all 10 torches are lit at the same time, making it an amazing sight to behold. Be sure to visit the tranquil temple in the day too, as it offers a stunning view over the valley once you get upstairs.

Omizutori is one of the most culturally-rich rituals practised in Japan and would be interesting to experience it while you’re in the area. It’s also a great opportunity to join the locals to usher in the new year!

 

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A post shared by Japan Awaits (@japanawaits) on Feb 29, 2020 at 7:21pm PST

 

As you can see, spring is definitely an important time for Japanese, with many festivities along with the blooms of the sakura flowers. So when you’re in Japan, don’t forget to grab your sakura-themed foods and enjoy what these festivals have to offer!

 

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