Hakuta Dontaku, Fukuoka
One of the oldest festivals in Japan, this particular event has been in existence for over eight hundred years. Taking place over two days in early May (usually 3rd and 4th), a carnival atmosphere descends on the biggest town on Kyushu for the duration of the festival. Featuring a host of traditional activities including a representation of the three gods of Good Luck, a huge fireworks display and numerous music and dance performances, this is one of the island’s biggest events of the year.
Gion Matsuri, Kyoto
Taking place throughout July, it is as if the entire city of Kyoto travels back in time during this particular festival. One of the largest of its kind in the country, Gion Matsuri has been taking place for over eleven hundred years and features street fairs, games, parades as well as traditional food and drink. If you are interested in seeing Japan at its most traditional, Kyoto with its collection of almost two thousand temples and shrines is the place to do so and the month of July is the best time to avail of this opportunity.
Nebuta Matsuri, Amomori
This is a particularly unique festival thanks to the fact that it’s so easy to join in. Unlike most Japanese festivals where you simply get to look on, this one is rather interactive and as a result it is usually much more fun for all concerned. All you need is the proper attire which you can buy in local stores. Another big drawing factor of Nebuta Matsuri are the huge floats many of which reach up to nine metres in width and five in height. Representing demons, gods and other such groupings, many of them take up to four months to build so you can imagine how spectacular they are in the flesh.
Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo
Widely regarded as the biggest and boldest of all the Buddhist festivals taking place in Japan, the central feature of Sanja Matsuri are the shrines which house the kami or local deities. Throughout the city people vie for the honour to carry the shrines and those who are successful behave rather erratically to entertain the god, much to amusement of the onlookers. As well as the shrine processions, a host of traditional entertainers take to the streets and the festival attracts over two million people to the capital during the third weekend in May.
Fuji Rock Festival, Niigata
And now for something a little different and less traditional. An annual three-day celebration of rock music, this festival takes place on the Neaeba Ski slopes and is the biggest event of its kind in the eastern hemisphere. With four stages and a campsite located one thousand metres up in the mountains, the location is amazing and pretty unique for a rock festival. Those of you who don’t think you could handle three days, however, or those of you who don’t have the time can always avail of the one or two-day tickets and listen to the sounds of a host of international stars as they play into the night.