Summers are hot and muggy in Japan, but what make suffering through the terrible weather are the summer festivals, or natsu matsuri.
The earliest summer festivals were developed as praying rituals for the harvest god. As a traditionally agriculture-based society, the typical household’s economic fortunes for the year were very dependent on the quality of their harvests. Hence, in order to get good harvests for the upcoming fall season, Japanese people have developed elaborate festivals to pray for good crops. Over the years festivals have started to be organized all over Japan for all other kinds of reasons, such as to commemorate the Tokugawa period and their famous battles, or to pray for good business along the commerce street.
Summer festivals in Japan may be decided into two main categories: the odori (dancing) sort, where people gather and perform traditional dances, or the hanabi (fireworks) sort, which features elaborate fireworks display.
The odori festivals have a fun atmosphere of groups of people, usually from certain civic community club or association, coming together to perform traditional Japanese dances, in traditional Japanese summer wear. They usually dance and walk down a street as a procession, and there are also accompanying musicians on traditional instruments such as the Japanese flute and taiko drums as background music for the dancers. Spectators usually crowd at the side of the road, cheering the procession on and snacking on street food that is usually sold in these events.
On the other hand, hanabi festivals are organized by the city government (with a substantial amount of funds) to put up hour-long or even 2-hour-long fireworks display. People from the city or nearby cities usually camp at the viewing grounds early in the afternoon to watch the fireworks display at night. Firework displays are also usually designed by the few famous firework manufacturing companies and their in-house designers, and a true fan will be able to identify trademark designs from these companies.
If you choose to travel to Japan during summer, you must not miss the summer festivals. All the mugginess you endure will all be worth it.