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World Class Japanese Beauty! Japan’s 3 Most Beautiful Festivals

Festival is one of the essential elements for Japanese culture. Each with its own unique origin and the unique style of celebration, countless numbers of festivals are held around Japan all through the year.

Among many of those festivals in Japan, here we are introducing to you “Japan’s three most beautiful festivals”, festivals that are renowned particularly for their beauty. Photo: https://www.flickr.com

 

1. Kyoto Gion Matsuri

京都祇園祭
Location: Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社) Map
Period: July 1st thru 31st

kyoto-matsuri-gionmatsuri-top
https://www.flickr.com

The Origin

In 869, when an epidemic broke out in Kyoto, people who believed it was the divine punishment by the shrine organized a gathering to conduct a ritual to appease the anger of the gods and drive away disease and evil luck. The ritual is said to be the origin of Kyoto Gion Matsuri.

Greatest Feature: Yamaboko Parade

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https://www.flickr.com

More than 20 festival floats called “yamaboko” line up and parade around the town. You can see a variety of themes and designs with each float; some featuring a long sword and another in the shape of a ship. The best part of the parade is “Tsujimawashi,” in which the floats turn their directions at an intersection.

The parade takes place twice on the 17th and the 24th of July.

 

2. Takayama Matsuri

高山祭
Location: (Spring) Hieda Shrine 日枝神社 Map, (Autumn) Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine 櫻山八幡宮 Map
Period: (Spring) April 14th & 15th, (Autumn) October 9th & 10th

gifu-matsuri-takayamamatsuri-top
https://www.flickr.com

The Origin

The origin of this festival dates back to around the late 16th to the late 17th century and the festival floats in this shrine are said to have appeared first around 1718. The festival was first held as a religious ritual for the local feudal lord. The skill of the craftsmen in the area sophisticated the aesthetic aspects of the festival and contributed to its fame as a beautiful event.

The Hida area around the festival venue was only a small village between the mountains whose land didn’t suit farming and the residents were always short of plants and other resources they needed to dedicate to the local lord. So they instead used their labor and skills to serve as the workforce for the construction of waterways, roads and temples. They thus developed their skills of construction and wood crafting, which were then fully utilized to create the floats displayed in the festival and helped establish the fame of the festival as a beautiful spectacle.
Related: Hanamochi: Red and White Rice Cake Flowers that Add Color to the Harsh Winters

Feature 1: Festival Parades (Gojunko / Goshinko)

gifu-matsuri-takayamamatsuri-gojunko
https://www.flickr.com

Several hundred people in a variety of costumes march with festival floats around the town. The parade starts from Hieda Shrine, tours around the houses in the town to a symbolic resting place of the gods, and from there, returns back to the shrine.

Feature 2: Festival Float Exhibition

gifu-matsuri-takayamamatsuri-yatai
https://www.flickr.com

The festival floats designated as national important cultural properties will be exhibited to the public.

Feature 3: Traditional Puppet Show (Karakuri Hono)

Karakuri Hono is traditional performance art in which puppets manipulated with many ropes move around on the festival float. The puppets are moved around freely at will and brought to life by the sophisticated skill of the manipulators.

 

3. Chichibu Yomatsuri

秩父夜祭
Location: Chichibu Shrine in Chichibu City, Saitama Prefecture Map
Period: December 2nd & 3rd
*The whole event period lasts from the 1st thru 6th of December. The night festival (yomatsuri) is held as the pre-festival event on the 2nd, the night before the main festival on the 3rd.

saitamamatsuri-chichibuyomatsuri-top
https://www.flickr.com

The Origin

This festival celebrates the meeting between Myoken Bosatsu, the goddess enshrined at Chichibu Shrine, and Ryujin, the god who usually resides in the Mount Buko, that takes place only once a year. The reason these deities, who are in love with each other, can meet only once a year is because Ryujin actually has a wife called Suwa and is given her permission about seeing Myoken only at the night of the festival.

Feature 1: Festival Float

saitama-matsuri-chichibuyomatsuri-dashi
https://www.flickr.com

Decorated festival floats that are pulled or carried in Japanese festivals are often called “dashi.” There is a total of six dashi floats featured in Chichibu Festival. Some of the floats in the festival used to have triple-layered umbrellas around the central pole, from the top of which multiple strings with imitation flowers were hung like a round-shaped skirt.

All the festival floats in this festival are designated as important tangible folk cultural assets of Japan.

Feature 2: Play on the Festival Float

saitama-matsuri-chichibuyomatsuri-yataishibai
In this festival, each of the four member towns take turns annually to assume the festival host role and the host town of the year holds a play on its festival float. The preparation takes over one year for determining the title, casting the roles and practicing. On the day of presentation, one of the famous and traditional kabuki dramas will be played on the stages set up on the festival float.

This play and the traditional Japanese dance performed also on the float during the parade are both designated as national important intangible cultural assets.

Feature 3: Fireworks

saitama-matsuri-chichibuyomatsuri-hanabi
https://www.flickr.com

A total of about 7,000 fireworks are launched on the 2nd and the 3rd during the festival period and beautifully decorate the winter night sky.

 

Beauty is universal and has no boundary. Each festival has its own specific beauty and uniqueness and you cannot decide which one is better than others. Besides the festivals we have seen above, Japan also has many other attractive festivals held throughout the country. If you ever have a chance, visit as many festivals as you can and admire the Japanese beauty these festivals represent.

Related:
5 Summer Festivals with Stunningly Beautiful Lantern Illuminations
Wasshoi! Chants Used in Japanese Festivals

KAWATA

About the author

I'm interested in general in all things related to culture and fine arts with a focus on movies, art, and design. I hope to introduce to many people all the different sides to Japan in regards to Japanese culture.

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