Planning a trip to Japan this April? So what is in your to do list? Cherry blossom viewing? A must! Eat all the delicious strawberry desserts you can get your hands on? Of course! Want to top the list with a special Japanese activity? Then add in matsuri!

The Japanese term “matsuri” (festival) refers to ceremonies. Other than that, events associated with it are also called ‘matsuri’ in some cases. There are no specific matsuri days for all of Japan; dates vary from area to area, and even within a specific area.

However, festival days do tend to cluster around traditional holidays such as setsubun or obon. Almost every locale has at least one matsuri in late summer or early autumn, usually related to the rice harvest. Festivals are often based around one event, with food stalls, entertainment, and carnival to keep the public entertained. Some are based around temples or shrines, others hanabi (fireworks), and still others around contests where the participants sport loin cloths.

There are also various local festivals (e.g. Tobata Gion) that are mostly unknown outside a given prefecture. It is commonly said that you will always find a festival somewhere in Japan for there are more than 10,000 matsuri festivals in all around Japan. At present, many matsuri in the general sense are held under the initiative of shrines or temples, or by having settings in shrines or temples.

The purpose and meaning are diversified because some feasts are held for ‘the productiveness of grain’ for good harvests, and a prayer for good luck charm and for warding off evil such as ‘good catch and memorial service’, ‘prosperous trade’, ‘an attempt to secure protection from a plague’, ‘state of perfect health’, ‘safety of one’s family’, ‘peace and longevity’, ‘harmonious marriage’, ‘fertility and family prosperity’, ‘ancestor worship’, ‘abundance and joy to all people’, ‘universal peace’, and so on. While some are held in appreciation for the accomplishments of such prayers, other festivals are part of annual events such as sekku, or held to console the spirits of great people.

The time of holding and contents of events are of great variety depending on the purpose. In spite of the same purpose, and festival for enshrined deity, a style or variety of religious service, or a tradition differs greatly according to a province or region in many cases.

List of Matsuri This April

4. 1. Inuyama Festival

Inuyama Festival (Inuyama Matsuri) / PHOTO: Aichi Now

Inuyama Festival is a 300 year old festival that presents an offering of karakuri to the deity of Haritsuna Shrine. Karakuri in Inuyama Festival refers to a set of puppets moved with a complicated contraption, or “trick”, made with strings, that allows the puppets to dance and act. There are karakuri puppets on each of the thirteen giant floats – some reaching up to 8 meters, adorned with beautiful sakura or full bloom cherry blossoms. On 30 November 2016, the floats of Inuyama Festival were listed as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Date: 7 – 8 April 2018
Venue: Inuyama Castle (Surrounding)
Address: Inuyama City, Aichi Prefecture
Admission: FREE
Contact: Inuyama Tourist, Information Center,
How to get there: [Train] JR Inuyama Station, Meitetsu Inuyama Line
[Bus] Inuyama Station to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya

3. 2. Takayama Spring Festival

Takayama Matsuri / PHOTO: Wicki

The Takayama Festival is ranked as one of Japan’s three most beautiful festivals alongside Kyoto‘s Gion Matsuri and the Chichibu Yomatsuri. It is held twice a year in spring and autumn in the old town of Takayama, attracting a huge crowds including tourists. The Spring Festival (14 -15 April) is the annual festival of the Hie Shrine in the southern half of Takayama’s old town. It is also called Sanno Festival after the shrine Sanno-sama. The festival features processions of large wheeled floats, mikoshi (portable shirines) and marionette performances. It advised to book hotels months before the festival.

Date: 14 – 15 April 2018
Venue: Hie Shrine
Address: Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture
Admission: FREE
Contact: Hida Takayama Tourist Information Office, 0577-32-5328 (In front of JR Takayama Station)
How to get there: [Train] JR Takayama Line, JR Takayama Station
[Bus] Takayama Hida Bus Centre

2. 3. Boys’ Day

Koinobori, Colorful Carp Banners / PHOTO: Yoshikazu Takada

It is a yearly practice for celebrating Boys’ Day at Tokyo Tower. 333 carp streamers in a variety of sizes and colors are put on display. It is a reference to the building’s 333 meter height along with a single huge saury streamer, and they are kept up until the end of Golden Week in May. The saury streamer is 6 meters long, and it was first made to be added to the carp streamer display in April 2011 as a message of support for the reconstruction efforts immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake in Ofunato, Iwate.

Date: 7 April – 6 May 2018
Time: 9:00 to 23:00
Venue: Tokyo Tower (Main Entrance)
Address: Minato-Ku, Tokyo Prefecture
Admission: FREE (different admission Fee for Tokyo Tower)
Contact: Nippon Television City Corporation (Tokyo Tower), 03-3433-5111
How to get there: [Train] JR Toei Oedo Line,
Akabaneshi Station
[Bus] Tokyo Station

1. 4. Spring Kemari Festival

Time to Play / PHOTO: Niraka

Held at Tanzan Shrine in spring and August, the Kemari Festival features beautiful processions, rituals and eventually a game of kemari. Wearing colorful
robes from the 7th century, the priests enter the shrine and play the traditional game. Kemari is a ball game that was popular in Japan during the Heian Period and was played by the royal family. The goal is to keep a leather ball called mari from touching the ground using only one’s feet by juggling or lifting. The public is welcomed to join in the game after the performance.

Date: 29 April 2018
Time: 11:00 to 12:00
Venue: Tanzan Shrine
Address: Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture
Admission: 600 yen per adult
Contact: Tanzan Shrine, 0744-49-0001
How to get there: [Train] JR Kintetsu Railway Line, Sakurai Station
[Bus] Tanzan Jinja



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