Everyone wants to see sakura (桜) during spring in Japan. Others anticipate the powdered yuki (雪, snow) during Japanese winter. Summer in Japan calls for beach and bikinis. Autumn’s left out of this hype.
Contrary to popular belief, aki (秋, autumn) is actually one of the most festive seasons in Japan! The foliage is reason enough to be roaming around the country sightseeing. Japanese tourists try to catch an autumn festival (祭り, matsuri) or two while they’re in a different town. But here’s the thing: there are too many festivals to choose from! So we’ve shortlisted 5 of the most thrilling ones for you to look out for.
1. Tori no Ichi (Nationwide)
An aki matsuri (秋祭り, autumn festival) you don’t want to miss is Tori no Ichi. This translates to “Day of the Bird”. This festival can be dated back to the Edo period and is celebrated nationwide. The biggest celebration of this festival you can find is in Tokyo. But don’t worry, if you’re not in the city during that time, there are others in various cities. The exact date follows the lunar calendar and falls on the day of the rooster. In olden days, this day let farmers know to harvest and sell their goods. Generally, it’s either early November or late November, around the 8th and 9th or 20th and 21st.
2. Takayama Autumn Festival (Gifu)
Up in Gifu Prefecture, there’s the Takayama Autumn Festival. It’s one of the more famous ones. In a year, more than 100,000 guests from Japan and overseas travel to Takayama City just for this occasion. The celebration has been going on annually for more than 350 years. The main highlight of this festival is the floats. You’ll see rows of them parading down the street. Each float is based on a theme of Japanese culture (文化).
This festival usually happens in early October. If you miss out on this one, the Takayama Spring Festival happens in the middle of April. It’s just as thrilling and exciting.
3. Kurama Fire Festival (Kyoto)
If you find yourself in the ancient capital city of Kyoto at the end of October, you’re right in time for the Kurama Fire Festival. This matsuri is all about fire (火, hi). It takes place not too far from the central city of Kyoto. It is in the mountains of Kurama, though, so bring your outdoor clothes!
Unlike the first two, this festival only starts after sunset. Those involved in the parade will be in costumes and carrying torches as they walk down the streets towards Yuki-jinja Shrine. This festival is like Obon, as it welcomes the spirits from the shrine to the village. It’s believed that the spirits can offer protection for the residents. Stay till the end for a huge bonfire!
4. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Fukushima)
Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival is all about lanterns. Duh! This festival takes place in Fukushima at Nihonmatsu Shrine at the start of October. You’ll be able to witness more than 300 lanterns all lit up, surrounded by approximately 65,000 people! The lanterns are arranged on 7 different floats and the celebration begins after sunset. You’ll hear taiko drums and flute music accompanying the parade.
This matsuri honours the Hachiman and Kumano gods of Nihonmatsu Shrine. Locals believe that they these gods give power to the rice plants and harvesting season.
5. Supernatural Cat Festival (Tokyo)
Last but not least, we circle back to central Japan, in Tokyo! Out of all the crazy festivals this city has, Bake Neko has to be the one we highlight. Supernatural Cat Festival falls on the 13th of October every year in Kagurazaka neighbourhood. It’s all about…neko (猫, cat)! You put on a cat costume, pay an entry fee of ¥500, and join the parade! If you don’t have a costume, the on-site makeup artist can transform you into one.
Bake Neko isn’t just a parade, although that’s the main attraction. There are performances and food and souvenir stalls for you to enjoy. Not your typical traditional Japanese festival, but it is uniquely Japan.
There are all sorts of festivals happening in Japan all year round. Autumn festivals are abundant, but these five shouldn’t be missed! Whether it’s appreciating the gods or shape shifting into a feline, trust Japan to have a celebration for that.