If you’re in Japan for any length of time, chances are there’ll be a festival or ‘matsuri’ going on somewhere. Japan always seems to be celebrating something, from the famous Gion and Tenjin matsuri, to those involving naked men, fire or dragon boats. It’s worth checking what will be on when you go as you can easily incorporate one into a holiday using the Japan Rail Pass.
The Japanese love to celebrate, and to celebrate with the whole community. Factoring in a matsuri is the perfect way to glimpse a part of Japanese culture not normally seen in day-to-day life. Experience the unique combination of the Shinto religion, with all day (and sometimes week) partying!
What to expect (men carrying heavy things & shouting!)
An important element of a festival is the procession, in which the local shrine’s kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in mikoshi (palanquins). Some festivals also feature decorated dashi (floats), which are pulled through the town accompanied by people drumming and chanting, often in little more than a well-placed loincloth. All in all things can get pretty boisterous!
Every festival has its own characteristics so be sure to check out here what you’re likely to find at all the major ones. You don’t want to be geared up for some energetic and noisy jostling and turn up to find a dignified procession of 42 solemn men carrying a 3 meter long carved wooden phallus. Or maybe you do…
How to get there
With matsuri and music festivals nationwide your Japan Rail Pass will be able to get you there in ease and style, servicing all the major stations as well as smaller Japan Rail lines and bus routes. Larger festivals such as Golden Week or Hanami will be very busy, with accommodation booking up months in advance in tourist destinations and festival hotspots, so make sure to think ahead and you’ll be fine.
(It has been known for certain JRPass site Editors to use their Japan Rail Pass to zip up from south Japan to Tokyo for the day, just to enjoy the fun of a Tokyo matsuri!)