Japanese festivals (matsuri) are celebrated all year round in Japan and for many different reasons and occasions. Originally matsuri evolved as part of the native Shinto religion and is still widely and routinely celebrated all across Japan and is usually sponsored by a local shrine or temple. Autumn is a splendid time in Japan when the temperatures start to cool after the blazing summer heat, so daytime can be enjoyed once again. So, if you’re in Japan this autumn, here are two of the most popular autumn festivals to start planning for!
Takayama’s matsuri festival in autumn is said to be one of the three most beautiful matsuri celebrations across Japan. The festival is held in the Sakurayama Hachiman shrine so is also referred to as the Hachiman Matsuri as well. Like many autumn festivals, the Hachiman Matsuri serves as a reminder for everyone to begin their preparations for the cold winter season ahead. Also, the floats used during the festival are unique cultural assets, and it’s clear to see why.
The picture above is of one of the 11 yatai (cart) floats that are deemed as intangible cultural assets, and upon the floats are wind up marionettes which depict a tale across the 11 floats. The floats are paraded throughout Takayama for everyone to observe and enjoy. However, as these particular floats are so special and elegant, they will not be taken out if the weather is bad but is still available to see as their storehouses will be opened to the public if that’s the case. After the marionettes have performed, the mikoshi (palanquins) is taken from the shrine and paraded around town, and enshrined within is the kami (Shinto deity) of Hachiman shrine.
At night, thousands of lanterns are lit along the sides of the yatai floats and the parade continues into the evening. As you can expect, this matsuri is incredibly popular so if you want to stay in the area to watch it, be sure to book early!
Dates: 9th and 10th of October
Jidai Matsuri is the celebration of Heian shrine for the many years that Kyoto was the capital of Japan. The mikoshi that is paraded throughout the festival contains the spirits of Emperor Kammu and Emperor Komei, who were the first and last Emperors to rule in Kyoto when it was the capital of Japan. Heian shrine was only completed a few years after the capital and government were moved from Kyoto to Edo (modern day Tokyo).
To celebrate the history of Kyoto, the parade spans over 5km through the streets of Kyoto from the old Imperial Palace to Heian shrine itself and takes two hours for the floats to reach their destination. Kyoto was the capital of Japan for over 1000 years and all of these years are demonstrated throughout the parade. The parade order begins with people dressed from the Meiji Restoration and then the dress goes in reverse chronological order all the way back to the Heian Period which began in 794. Over 2000 people are involved in the procession itself, all in costume and some are even dressed as specific historical figures.
Also, in the festival are marching bands and palanquins denoting how the rich and powerful traveled in past times. Attending Jidai matsuri is akin to visiting a museum of Japan’s history that has come to life! As the parade route spans over a decent distance, there is plenty of opportunities to catch sight of it, or if you want to make it a sure thing you can reserve seats along the route!
Dates: 22nd of October
There are many Japanese festivals to be enjoyed in the cool autumn season where you will find many people celebrating the people of Japan, the history of Japan, and its wonderfully unique culture.
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