It may not be cherry blossom season, nor summer when all the Bon festivals are on, but Autumn brings with it i’s own special event: the Aki Matsuri, or Autumn festival. Autumn festivals are held throughout Japan, most celebrated to either pray for a good harvest or to celebrate the local Shinto gods.
In October, the weather is cool and it’s the perfect time to be outside all day long. Which is good, because most of these festivals start at 8:00 am, along with a toast of sake to the gods. It’s a great way to start the day! And it’s a great day to see the Japanese at their best having fun. Photo opportunities abound.
Here are some of the biggest and Autumn festivals in Japan:
Oct. 4-6 Nihonmatsu Chochin Matsuri (Lantern Festival)
One of the three largest lantern festivals in Japan (the others being Akita and Aichi), this festival is held in Nihonmatsu, Fukushima prefecture. Seven floats with 350 lanterns each are paraded through the town at nighttime ending at Nihonmatsu Shrine. The procession is accompanied by festival music.
Takayama Autumn Festival Oct. 9-10
Takayama in Gifu prefecture is always a popular site for tourists, and the Autumn festival is an exciting time to visit. It starts with a ceremony at Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine. After the ceremony, a procession of 11 festival floats, or mikoshi, are pulled through town. The floats are lit with paper lanterns at night. On Sunday is a marionette performance for the gods. The main mikoshi hosting the main God, is makes visits to all the houses in town. Accompanied by traditional Shinto music.
Nada Kenka Matsuri Oct. 14-15
Held in Shirahama-cho in the city of Himeji in Hyogo prefecture, this festival is a loud and raucous one! Large shrines over 4 tons each carried by up to 50 men, fight and clash against each other in a show of bravery to please the Hachiman god, seen by many as the God of War. This festival is so harsh, sometimes participants get injured or killed.
Kyoto Jidai Matsuri (festival of ages) Oct. 22
To celebrate the founding of the Kyoto capital of Japan on this date in 794, the Kyoto Jidai Matsuri has been celebrated ever since. Over 2,000 people wearing costumes of the nobility as well as commoners of the time, take part in this procession which moves from Heian-jingu shrine to the Imperial Palace and back at the end of the day.
If you’d rather stay away from the big crowds, and if you’d like to participate yourself in one of these festivals rather than just observing, then you’ll be interested in the smaller local town festivals, which can be found all over Japan.
Stay tuned for the next article on friendly local Autumn festivals.
- Takayama Festival has an excellent site where you can even see movies of the procession
- Nada Kenka Matsuri
- Kyoto Jidai Matsuri
- Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Japanese)
Amy Chavez is author of Guidebook to Japan: What the other guidebooks won’t tell you” She is a columnist for The Japan Times, co-hosts the Planet Japan podcast. Visit her website at www.amychavez.com