Annual Events Traditional Culture

Festival (Matsuri)

「 Wasshoi !  Wasshoi ! ・・・」 What do you think this noisy shouting and cheering?


Hi everyone  how are things going? Today’s topic is “Festival” (Matsuri in Japanese) which is no matter where you go not only in Japan but also non-combat areas or countries around the world, you’ll meet noisy, energetic, boisterous events of festival such as Brazil’s Rio Carnival, Holloween and so on throughout the year.

Now talking about the shouting, “Wasshoi, Wasshoi” a cheer, given while carrying a portable shrine in a parade uproarious “Wasshoi, Wasshoi・・” comes the word from “Wa wo seou”, literally means “to carry peace with the heart of everyone”.

In other words, everyone gets together and joins forces and goes towards the goal.

Upon checking on the number of festivals, I found out Japan is probably one of top three rank of numbers held festival in the world in one year.

According to a data, there are around 100,000 festivals because there are about 100,000 shirines, small ones to large one altogether in Japan.

And speaking of Matsuri, what is indispensable is “Dashi (festival floats)” and “Mikoshi (portable shirin)” .

How do Dashi and Mikoshi differ from each other?

★ Mikoshi are carried on people’s shoulders, and not allowed to ride on a mikoshi


For further information on Mikoshi, please visit the webpage of “Mikoshi“, thanks

★ Dashi are pulled by people, and people can ride atop the dashi


Dashi is essentially colorfully decorated floats that appear in Japanese festivals, pulled and moved along the street by large groups of people.

In general, they are built to stand tall, and their height can range from just one meter all the way up to an impressive ten meters, in a wide variety of types and styles.

Dashi is called by different names depending on the festival and the region of the country.

Let’s take following well-known examples,

Kasaboko – Saitama prefecture’s Chichibu Festival.

Danjiri – A name used primarily in the Kansai region at festivals such as the Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri in Osaka.

Yamahoko – Festivals such as the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto.

Yamakasa – Festivals such as Fukuoka’s Hakata Gion Yamakasa.

Hikimono – Festivals such as Tokyo’s Kanda Matsuri and Nagasaki’s Nagasaki Kunchi.

In addition, dashi is sometimes referred to as hikiyama and at other times are simply called yama.

Matsuri and Nenchu gyoji (annual events)?

Our Japanese festivals, holidays, and other ceremonial occasions fall into two main catergories; masuri (festivals) and nenchu gyouji (annual events).

Matsuri is essentially native Japanese festivals of Shinto origin, held annually on established dates. Nenchu gyoji is a larger category of annual and seasonal observance, many of which are of Chinese or Buddhist origin.

Nenchu gyoji are arranged seasonally to form an annual calendar of events. while Matsuri is often included in this calendar, and there is some overlapping between the two categories.

What’s Matsuri?

Matsur is chiefly of sacred origin, related to the cultivation of rice and the spiritual well-being of local communities.

They derive ultimately from ancient Shinto rites for the propitiation of the gods and the spirits of the dead, and for the fulfilment of the agricultural round.

Some of these Shinto rites were incorporated, along with Buddhist and Confucian rites and ceremonies imported from China, into the imperial calendar of annual observances.

The word “maturi” includes the rites and festivals practiced in both Folk Sinto and institutionalized Shinto.

A matsuri is basically a symbolic act whereby participants enter a state of active communication with the gods (kami); it is accompanied by communion among participants in the form of feast and festival.

In a broad sense, matsuri may also include festivals in which the playful element and commercial interests have all but obliterated the original sacramental context.


The Matsuri and the Seasons

Matsuri is in origin and tradition closely related to rice-centered agriculture, especially the growing cycle of rice.

Among annual rites, spring and autumn matsuri are the most important. The spring festivals invoke a rich harvest or celebrate an anticipated good harvest; the autumn festivals are held in thanksgiving for a plentiful harvest.

Besides spring and autumn fetes, there are summer festivals (natsu matsuri) and winter festivals (fuyu matsuri).

In farming areas the summer matsuri has the role of driving away natural disasters that might threaten the crops.

In the cities, especially since the medieval period (mid-12th-16th centuries), ther role of such festivals has been to ward off plague and pestilence.

The winter matsuri, held between the harvest and spring seeding, has elements of both the autumn and spring matsuri.

Thus, Japanese matsuri is synchronized with seasonal changes and are classified according to the four seasons.

Finally, list of some of Japan’s most famous festivals

Sapporo Snow Festival
One week in early February
Large snow and ice sculptures are built in the city’s centrally located Odori Park during the Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo Yuki Matsuri)


Akita Prefecture
Yokote Kamakura Festival
February 15 and 16
Many igloo-like snow houses, called kamakura, and hundreds of mini kamakura are built at various locations across the city during this Yokote Kamakura Festival in one of Japan’s snow-richest regions.


March 1-14
Omizutori is a Buddhist religious service rather than a festival, held every year at the Nigatsudo Hall of Todaiji Temple. The most spectacular among its many ceremonies, is the nightly burning of torches on the balcony of the wooden temple hall.


Takayama Matsuri
April 14-15 and October 9-10
Large and elaborately decorated floats are pulled through the old town of Takayama. Held in spring and autumn.


Aoi Matsuri
May 15
The Aoi Masturi’s main attraction is a large parade of over 500 people dressed in the aristocratic style of the Heian Period (794-1185) that leads from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines, the festival’s host shrines.


Kanda Matsuri
Weekend closest to May 15 in odd numbered years
The Kanda Masturi consists of numerous events held over an entire week, but the main action happens over the weekend closest to May 15. Highlights of the festival are a daylong procession through central Tokyo on Saturday,
and parades of portable shrines (mikoshi) by the various local neighborhoods on Sunday.


Matsuri (Festival)

Third full weekend in mid May from Friday to Sunday
The festival of Asakusa Shrine, the Sanja Matsuri is one of Tokyo’s three big festivals. Mikoshi are carried through the streets of Asakusa.
For further information: Sanja Matsuri (Festival)


Hakata Gion Yamakasa
July 1-15
The Hakata Gion Yamakasa in Fukuoka’s Hakata district takes place from July 1 to 15 and climaxes with a spectacular time trial race of festival floats in the early morning hours of July 15.


Gion Matsuri
The festival of Yasaka Shrine, Gion Matsuri is ranked as one of Japan’s three best festivals, featuring over 20 meter tall festival floats. The highlight of the festival is the parade of floats on July 17, and the festivities in the evenings before the parade.


Tenjin Matsuri
July 25
The festival of Osaka’s Tenmangu Shrine, the Tenjin Matsuri is ranked as one of Japan’s three greatest festivals, featuring a lavish procession not only through the streets of Osaka, but also on boats on the river that is accompanied by a firework display.


Nebuta Matsuri
August 2-7
The Nebuta Matsuri features festival floats with huge lanterns, some measuring more than 10 meters. The festival attracts several million visitors every year.


Kanto Matsuri
August 3-6
Over two hundred long bamboo poles with up to 46 lanterns attached to each are balanced by the members of this popular festival’s nightly parades.


Awa Odori
August 12-15
This is the most famous of many traditional dancing festivals held across Japan during the obon season in mid August.


Nagasaki Kunchi
October 7-9
The festival of Nagasaki’s Suwa Shrine, the Nagasaki Kunchi features Chinese style dragons and floats shaped like ships.


Jidai Matsuri
October 22
A spectacular historical parade which covers the over 1000 years during which Kyoto served as Japan’s capital. The procession leads from Kyoto Imperial Palace to Heian Shrine.


Chichibu Yomatsuri
December 2-3
The Chichibu Night Festival is considered one of Japan’s three best festivals featuring large festival floats (yatai). The festival’s highlight takes place in the evening of December 3.

Let’s join them and pull ropes or carry Mikoshi, shall we? I’ll bet You’ll be fun!

About the author

古林 茂樹(Shigeki Furubayashi )