Top 10 Must-See Japanese Festivals / Matsuri

Top 10 Must-See Japanese Festivals / Matsuri

In Japan, festivals, known as “matsuri” (まつり) in modern times, include a range of large-scale events, including traditional religious rituals and modern tourist festive activities. Both types of festivals continue the Japanese tradition of reverence for nature and emphasis on aesthetics.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, this blog post is here for you. Maybe you can join 1 or 2 festivals during your trip! Learn more from our top 10 recommended Japanese festivals.

This table shows the popular Japanese Festivals with name, location, and dates.
Top 10 Japanese Popular Festivals
Festival Prefecture/City Date
The Oto Matsuri Festival Wakayama Prefecture February 6, 2024
Ura Bandai Snow Festival Fukushima Prefecture February 15-17, 2024
Kanamara Penis Festival Kanagawa Prefecture April 7, 2024
Kanda Festival Tokyo May 2025
Aoi Festival Kyoto May 15, 2024
Gion Festival Kyoto The entire month of July
Tenjin Festival Osaka July 24-25, 2024
Toyohashi Gion Festival Aichi Prefecture July (to be announced by officials)
Awa Odori Festival Tokushima August 12-16, 2024
Hita Tenryo Festival Oita Prefecture Mid-November

The Oto Matsuri Festival—Breath-taking fire dragon scene

The Oto Matsuri Festival (お燈まつり) has a history of over 1,400 years and is held every February at the Takakura Shrine in Wakayama Prefecture. It is a ritual to welcome the new year.

A team of approximately 2,000 men (known as noboriko) dressed in white and wearing straw rope around their waists joyfully lit pentagonal-shaped torches with sacred fire while praying for a bountiful harvest and the safety of their families. 

The sight that unfolds as the men enthusiastically descend from the shrine with torches in hand is just like the lyrics of the Shingu-setsu song describe – it resembles a magnificent flaming waterfall and a winding, fiery dragon.

This festival is renowned as one of the liveliest fire festivals in Japan. On the day of the festival, women are kindly requested not to enter the Kamikura-jinja Shrine grounds, but they can still enjoy the festivities from the path leading to the shrine.


February 6, 2024


Kamikura-jinja Shrine, 1-13-8 Kamikura, Shingu City

How to get there?

15-minute walk from JR Shingu Station

Ura Bandai Snow Festival—The enchanting winter spectacle

In Fukushima Prefecture, the Ura Bandai Snow Matsuri (裏磐梯雪祭典) takes place in February. The organisers place over 3,000 lanterns on the frozen surface of Renge Lake, creating a breathtaking and magical sight on a winter night. It is believed that the more lanterns are lit, the more happiness can be obtained.


Renge Pond, Hibara, Kitashiobara Village, Yama District, Fukushima Prefecture

How to get there?

30-minute taxi ride from Inawashiro Station

Kanamara Matsuri—Celebration of penis

Every April, the Kanamara Matsuri is held at the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture. The highlight of the festival is the parade featuring large models of male reproductive organs. The festival’s original purpose is to pray for fertility, the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and infertility, and safe childbirth.

You are welcome to join, regardless of who you are. Also, you’ll find different penis-shaped candies and foods at the festival, but don’t be shy about getting one. It’s a cultural thing, right?


April 7, 2024


Kanayama Shrine, 2-13-16 Daishiekimae, Kawasaki-ku, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa-ken

How to get there?

Walk distance from Kawasaki-Daishi Station

Kanda Matsuri (Kanda Festival)

Kanda Matsuri is one of the “Three Great Festivals” of Japan, along with the Sanno Matsuri and Fukagawa Matsuri. It is also the largest festival in Tokyo.

The festival has two versions: the full version and the “shadow festival”. The full version of the festival takes place only in odd-numbered years, while a simplified “shadow festival” is held in even-numbered years. And the next full version of the Kanda Matsuri is expected to be held in May 2025!

The Kanda Festival has many events that span 6 days and centre around the Kanda Myojin Shrine, but the main action usually takes place on the weekend closest to May 15, which is the long procession through central Tokyo on Saturday and parades of portable shrines (mikoshi) by different neighbourhoods on Sunday.


May 2025


Kanda Myojin Shrine, 2-16-2, Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0021

How to get there?

5 minute walk from “Shin-ochanomizu” station, Tokyo Metro Chiyoda-line, Hijiribashi bridge entrance

Aoi Festival

The Aoi Festival is the most traditional festival in Kyoto. The main event is a long-distance procession of people wearing ancient costumes. The procession consists of hundreds of people who play various traditional roles, including “Saio-dai,” “Saijo,” “Naishi,” and more. It starts at Shimogamo Shrine.

The Aoi Festival is considered one of the most solemn and graceful festivals in Japan. It has been well preserved since the 6th century, making it a valuable reminder of the past and an important part of Japanese manners and customs.

Notably, the Aoi Festival stands out among other Japanese festivals as it focuses on recreating costumes from the Heian period. If you have an interest in Japanese traditional culture, this is an event you shouldn’t miss.


May 15, 2023

Where and how to get there?

You can enjoy the festivals from different viewing spots. Here are some recommendations:

Location Distance
Inside the Kyoto Imperial Park A short walk from Subway Karasuma Line “Marutamachi” Station
The Intersection of Kawaramachi-dori St. & Imadegawa-dori St. 5-minute walk from Keihan Railway “Demachiyamagi” Station
Shimogamo Jinja Shrine 10-minute walk from Keihan Railway “Demachiyanagi” Station (Note: only limited space is available besides the reserved seating areas)
Kitaoji Bashi Bridge 5-minute walk from Subway Karasuma Line “Kitaoji” Station

Gion Festival—Over 1000-year-lived tradition in Kyoto


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Gion Matsuri, the grand festival of Yasaka Jinja Shrine, is a cherished tradition that has been celebrated for over 1150 years. Throughout the entire month of July, various shrines in Kyoto also hold different rituals and ceremonies.

One of the largest and most popular events is the Yamaboko Junko (float procession) held on July 17 every year, where the parade passes through the bustling streets of Shijo Kawaramachi.


July, 2024



Tenjin Festival—Summer festival in Osaka


The Tenjin Festival, along with the aforementioned Kanda Festival in Tokyo and Gion Festival in Kyoto, are all included in the “Three Great Festivals of Japan.” Compared to the Kanda Festival and Gion Festival, the most captivating event of the Tenjin Festival is the “Boat Procession,” held every year on July 25. Traditional-style boats sail through the shopping district of Dotonbori River, and in the evening, around 5,000 fireworks are launched as a dedication.


July 25, 2024



Awa Odori Matsuri—Over a thousand dancers showcasing traditional Japanese dance

The traditional Japanese dance known as “Awa Odori” originated in Tokushima, Shikoku, and is commonly seen at festivals and celebrations throughout Japan. The Awa Odori Matsuri in Tokushima attracts over a thousand dancers each year, who showcase this folk-inspired dance in the streets.


August 12–15, 2024



Hita Tenryo Festival & Sennen Akari—A must-see thousand lantern festival

Every mid-November, the town of Mameda in the prefecture holds the Hita Tenryo Matsuri. In addition to the daytime procession, there is a captivating “Thousand Lantern Festival” (千年あかり) held in the evening. The organisers create lanterns from bamboo tubes and light up nearly 30,000 lanterns, placing them along the banks of the Hanatsuki River in the city, creating a romantic and beautiful scene.




Oita Prefecture

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Frequently asked questions: Top 10 Japanese Festivals

What are the three  “Great Festivals of Japan”?

The three “Great Festivals of Japan” are the Kanda Festival, Gion Festival, and Tenjin Festival.

What is the name of the Japanese festival that celebrates “Penis”?

The name of the Japanese festival that celebrates “Penis” is the Kanamara Matsuri or Kanamara Penis Festival. It is held in April every year.

Can women join the Oto Matsuri Festival?

Women are kindly requested not to enter the Kamikura-jinja Shrine grounds during the Oto Matsuri Festival. However, they can still enjoy the festivities from the path leading to the shrine.

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