If you’d like to see a festival but want to stay away from the crowds, check out Japan’s hundreds of smaller local town matsuri or festivals. Almost every town has its own spring, summer or fall festival to celebrate harvests or the local Shinto gods. The best thing about these festivals is that you can actually participate in them rather than just taking pictures from the sidelines. The fun-loving local people are friendly and will probably welcome you into their community festival to help carry the mikoshi, (portable shrine-see photo) or to try your hand at one of the festival dances. It’s a great chance to get involved with the local culture!
The question is, how do you find these festivals that no one knows about?
Luckily, these days every prefecture has a website highlighting the prefecture’s history, the local commerce, the economy and lots of other information on the population living there. The website will also show all the events in the town that year, including sight-seeing spots and local festivals.
If you will be traveling around Japan, merely do a search on the internet of the prefectures you will be traveling in to see if there will be any festivals on or near the dates you will be passing through. There is a formula for finding these prefectural websites. Once you understand how the web addresses are set up, you can find any prefecture’s website in Japan by following the same formula.
Let’s say you’ll be passing through Okayama Prefecture. The formula to find the Okayama Prefecture website is:
The first part of the address after www is pref meaning prefecture. After that is the name of the prefecture, in this case Okayama, followed by jp meaning Japan. Don’t forget to put a dot after each new piece of information. Most prefectural websites use this formula.
Try it yourself. Type in http://www.pref.nameofprefecture.jp and see what you come up with. Since the jp at the end of the address means it is a Japanese address, you are likely to come up with a page in kanji. But click on the word English somewhere in the top of the menu to get to the English version of the website. Simple!
If you want to go beyond the prefectural level to the smaller town websites within that prefecture, try a different formula. Let’s say you are going to Hamada city in Shimane Prefecture. Try the following formula (but be warned that this doesn’t always work):
The first part of the address after www is city. After that is the name of the city, in this case Hamada, followed by prefecture name, in this case Shimane, and jp. Don’t forget to put a dot after each new piece of information. If you can’t find an English link from here, try adding slash / or english to the end of the address as in: http://www.city.hamada.shimane.jp/en/
Be warned, however, that this city/town formula doesn’t always work. If not, you’ll have to do a search on the internet. To find the English page of a city or town, search the city or town name, plus the words international center or international exchange association. Many towns have an international organization that caters to foreigners living in that area, and they will have a website in English with all the information on local events.
Have fun matsuri planning for your next trip to Japan!
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