Summer is here, and along with Japan’s sultry heat and humidity, summer means matsuri (festivals) taking place throughout the country!
Summer may not be for everybody (I know many Californians who can’t handle any degree of humidity, let alone temperatures above 80ºF/26ºC), but if you are anything like me, there’s nothing more enjoyable than a hot summer night at a Japanese matsuri.
There are so many things to love about Japanese festivals, but the first thing I always think of is the food. Unlike in many parts of Asia, street food is not normally prevalent in Japan, but this changes completely at festivals. The streets are lined with stall after stall of colorful yatai (food stalls), serving a remarkable array of healthy – and not-so-healthy – casual foods.
Then you have the celebrations themselves, which vary depending on the festival, but often involve spirited processions of participants chanting, dancing, and bearing massive (and intricately-decorated) omikoshi (portable shrines) or floats. If you want to see Japan at its liveliest, a high-energy matsuri is the place to do it.
I also love the traditional outfits people wear, and this usually applies not only to matsuri participants, but to observers as well. The garb can vary quite a bit depending both on the festival itself, and where in Japan it’s taking place, but it’s nearly always a visual delight.
Most travelers are drawn to well-known festivals — such as Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri, Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri, and the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku — but even unsung neighborhood festivals can be fantastic.
So if you’re willing to experience Japan’s summer heat and humidity, make sure to try and fit in a matsuri or two!
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