3 Prestigious Japanese Spring Festivals

  • Spring is a time of renewal, it heralds the end of a cold winter with the promise of new life for nature. In spring Japan really comes alive, hanami parties and cherry blossom viewing is a national past-time at this time of year. However hanami is not the only event that you can see in spring. As with many religions Shintoism celebrates the spring, and this is reflected in the matsuri which are celebrated in the spring months.

    1. Kanda Matsuri- Tokyo

    Kanda Matsuri is one the most famous events celebrated in Tokyo and is one of the three biggest festivals that Japan has to offer. Much like Sanno matsuri, Kanda matsuri is only celebrated every other year, this traditional goes back to the Edo period where as the festival was so extravagant, the Shogun decreed that it would not happen each year. Kanda matsuri, therefore, is held the opposing year to Sanno matsuri, so is run on odd numbered years. During the Edo period, this festival marked a time where people could enter the grounds of Edo Castle, which was not permitted at other times. The main parade is held on the Saturday of the festival weekend. The parade features around 100 portable shrines which can vary from small to rather large! Also, the parade includes around 300 people who walk with the shrines and priests on horseback, the parade route takes them through Kanda, Nihombashi, Otemachi, Akihabara, and Marunouchi. The Kanda matsuri starts at Kanda Myojin shrine where there are three kami who are deified; Daikokuten, Ebisu and Taira Masakado who was a feudal lord. Daikokuten is the kami of good harvest and marriage and Ebisu is the kami of business men and fisherman. The mikoshi, kami in portable shrines, are paraded on the Sunday. Each district visited on the Saturday by the main parade takes their own mikoshi around the streets of their local areas and some take them all the way to Kanda Myojin shrine. Kanda Matsuri is a truly joyful occasion and a must-see if you are visiting Tokyo in spring.
    Dates: Saturday and Sunday closest to the 15th of May, odd numbered years only.
    Official Website*Automatic translation
    Kanda Myojin (shrine) Access

    2. Aoi Matsuri- Kyoto

    Aoi matsuri is one of the top three festivals that are held in Kyoto, and one of the most famous. Aoi matsuri began in the 7th century, long before Kyoto was the capital of Japan. The myth goes that Kyoto was victim to many natural disasters and the kami of Kamo shrine was blamed. The Emperor of Japan made offerings to these kami and the disasters then stopped, so each year from that day this has been repeated. The main event of Aoi matsuri is a procession of over 500 people dressed in the traditional outfits of the Heian Period. The procession begins at the Imperial palace and goes to Kamo shrine, where the angered kami are enshrined. Traditionally each procession involved a Saoi who would have been a female member of the Imperial family. The Saoi served as the high priestess of Kamo shrine and held an importance place in this festival. Today, each year a new unmarried female from Kyoto is selected to be the Saoi, before the procession she will go through purification rituals and transported on the day of the festival on an ornate palanquin. Like other large festivals in Kyoto you can pre-book for paid seating in order to get a good view of the procession, otherwise come early to get a good spot! The costumes worn by the participants in the procession are breath-taking to see, this matsuri is not to be missed!
    Dates: 15th of May

    3. Omizutori- Nara

    Unlike the matsuri above, Omizutori is a Buddhist ritual performed over two weeks in Nara. Although Buddhism is not the native religion of Japan it has a long history in Japan and it’s influence can be widely seen. Omizutori has been conducted for over 1200 years and is one of the oldest still celebrated Buddhist events in Japan. Beginning on the 1st of March rituals or repentance are held at Nigatsudo Hall which is part of Todaiji temple. One of the most spectacular aspects of Omizutori is Otaimatsu. In this giant lit, torches are held over the balcony of Nigatsudo Hall and the burning embers fall on the crowd below. It is believed that these embers will allow those below to have a safe and good year. From the 1st of March to the 11th of March the torches are lit for about 20 minutes, however, the last three days are slightly different. The final day is the most stunning to behold as ten torches are all lit and held simultaneously. Another aspect of this event is Omizutori or water drawing. Beneath the temple, there is a well which is said to only flow once a year. The water is drawn from the well and is said to be restorative. If you are visiting Japan in spring, this is a stunning event to behold!
    Todaiji Access
    Where ever you are visiting in spring there will be events to witness and not just hanami.

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