Festival time is Japan at it's best; the Japanese know how to honour ancient traditions and also have a really, really good time.
There's almost always a festival taking place somewhere in Japan. And they come in all shapes and sizes: ancient shrine rituals in a tiny mountain hamlet; elaborate, stately Kyoto processions which date back over 1,000 years; awe-inspiring fireworks displays which bring whole cities to a standstill; scarily dangerous fire festivals where men in loincloths carry flaming torches; snow festivals with gigantic ice sculptures; rice festivals, sake festivals, beer festivals; festivals of light, lanterns, puppets and dance.
Festivals offer visitors the ideal opportunity to see Japan at play; wearing kimono, performing traditional dances, eating street food and drinking plenty of beer and sake. It's also a great chance to talk to the locals, make new friends and be rewarded with the famed Japanese hospitality.
Below are some of our favourite festivals from the famous to the little-known. Accommodation for the major festivals gets booked up a year in advance, so careful planning is necessary. Otherwise why not just see which smaller events coincide with your trip? Just go along and enjoy the surprise.
Takayama Spring & Autumn Festivals
Takayama comes alive in mid-April and mid-October for their annual festivals.
Gigantic illuminated floats take to the streets of Aomori every August.
Yabusame horseback archery
Witness the incredible martial art of horseback archery as the spirit of the samurai lives on.
Awa Odori dance festival
Head to Tokushima for the most famous and boisterous of Shikoku's summer dance festivals.
Shirakawago Doburoku festival
A harvest festival Japanese style! Expect prayers, singing and dancing aided by copious amounts of home brew.
Sapporo snow festival
Magical winter festival surrounding huge snow sculptures several stories high.
Okayama naked man festival
A naked festival? In winter? Surely not!
Japan's best beer festival takes over Sapporo city centre for a month each summer.
Saijo sake festival
Fun and friendly drinking festival with over 900 varieties of sake.
Sumida River fireworks
Japan's most historic fireworks display illuminates the Sumida River in Tokyo.
A stately procession of Kyotoites and animals re-enacts the delivery of the Emperor's message to two of Kyoto's most important shrines.
Obon & the Daimonji bonfire festival
In Kyoto, the Obon festival climaxes with the lighting of giant bonfires to guide the ancestors back to the spirit world.
Toyota Oiden festival
A fabulous summer extravaganza with dancing, drinking, fantastic street food and one of the world's largest firework displays.
See in the New Year Japanese-style, by visiting a temple to see the sunrise on January 1st.
Festival of the Ages
In October Kyoto stages a gracious parade of citizens wearing period costumes reflecting the city's mighty history.
Christmas in Japan
The Japanese have their own unique take on Christmas.
Kyoto lantern illuminations
Lanterns light up the dark winter evenings around Kyoto's most famous sights
The most famous of all Japan's festivals, the Gion Matsuri dates back to 898.