Attending one of the many Summer Festivals in Japan
-By Achim Runnebaum
The word Matsuri (祭) in Japanese means holiday or festival, and is synonymous with summer in Japan. That’s the time of year when the weather outside becomes warm enough to make even hell seem like a cool getaway. It’s the season where after stepping outside for just 5min, you need another shower; the time of year where you forget all the complaining you did in the winter about how cold it is, and actually start to look forward to the relieving coldness of the fall season. In short, summers in Japan (especially in Nagoya) are not for the faint of heart (literally, as the number of heat strokes is on the rise).
After the soggy rainy season, however, the drier but incredibly humid climate of summer is a welcome change for everyone, and so there is an abundance of beer gardens, events, and festivals during this time of the year to celebrate being able to sit outside, enjoy some fireworks with friends and family and relax with some beers. One of the biggest highlights during this season are the aforementioned summer festivals or Natsu matsuri （夏祭). Every city has numerous events and festivals during the summer months since many are related to individual shrines and temples in the various cities. Notable Matsuri often feature processions spotlighting huge elaborate floats, which are oftentimes paraded through the streets as part of the festival.
There are literally thousands of festivals in Japan in the summer, so it’s not too difficult to find one to attend with friends or family. If you want to visit some well-known, traditional Summer Festivals, here is a list of some of the most interesting ones (please note the dates are for 2015):
*Gion Matsuri in Kyoto (July 16th – 23rd)
*Awa Odori (various places; August 12th – 15th)
*Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori (August 2nd – 7th)
*Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka (July 24-25)
*Tanabata Matsuri (various places; August 20th)
And while not a “traditional” festival, I will include the Fuji Rock Festival (July 24th – 26th) on this list as well, since it is one of the biggest events in all of Japan during the Summer Season.
If you have the chance to go to a summer festival in Japan, you will undoubtedly see the many colourful outfits called Yukata that people tend to wear to these events. It’s the cooler summer version of the more traditional Kimono. They are worn especially by young girls, who think it’s chic and fashionable. The men, on the other hand wear a special male version. A standard yukata ensemble is made up of a cotton undergarment 襦袢(juban), yukata, obi, bare feet, sandals 下駄(Geta), a foldable or fixed hand fan, and a carry bag 巾着(kinchaku). Kinchaku are used by both men and women to carry personal items, and most recently, the ever-present cell phone.
Of course, while walking around the festival venues in the hot summer climate, its easy to work up an appetite. Don’t worry, you won’t starve to death as there is also plenty of typical Japanese street food to be had at these festivals. There is everything ranging from Cucumber on a stick (Kanji), Yakitori (焼き鳥), which is something like shashlik (meat on a stick), to french fries, to BBQ squid (いか焼き), glazed Apples, Crepe, Takoyaki (たこ焼き; a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan). It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus (tako タコ), tempura scraps (tenkasu 天カス), pickled ginger, and green onion and everything between. In short, there’s something to be found for all palates and all ages – for the young as well as the (still) young at heart.
Whether you go there for the food, the festivities, or the atmosphere, you’re sure to have a great time at one of the many summer festivals in Japan. Have a fantastic summer!