Steeped in culture and fiercely protective of its heritage, festivals are incredibly important in Japan with many people travelling from all corners of the country to attend the most important events and celebrations.
Though hundreds of small festivals and events take place across the country throughout the year, there are a few that are more important than the rest. If you happen to be staying in Japan during one of these festivals or celebrations, taking part will give you a fantastic insight into Japanese culture and an experience you’ll never forget.
The Five Biggest Events in Japan
Taking place on the 3rd or 4th of February, Setsubun is a bean throwing festival originally intended to help those taking part to drive off evil spirits.
Sweets and money are also thrown into the crowd with people rushing to secure their prize.
Today it’s a national event with celebrities often taking part and much of the festivities broadcast on TV.
Image: sk CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
Shogatsu (New Year)
The most important event in the Japanese calendar is New Year. Celebrated on the 31st December in line with western countries, New Year is a time when Japanese families come together to celebrate and have fun.
Money is traditionally given to small children and people will often eat soba noodles at the stroke of midnight, with the Emperor of Japan beginning the New Year with a dawn prayer for the nation.
Famous throughout the world, Japan’s cherry blossoms put on a spectacular show every spring with visitors coming from far and wide to view the incredible sight. Best events and festivals in Japan
The Cherry Blossom Festival, or Hanami, takes place from March to May and involves groups of friends and family picnicking, meeting and strolling beneath the blossoms to appreciate and enjoy their beauty. This is a fantastic time to be backpacking in Japan.
Image: Reginald Pentinio CC BY 2.0 via Flickr
For a week from the end of April to the 6th May, four of Japan’s most important festivals take place in quick succession. Known as ‘Golden Week’, the period is one of the busiest times to travel in Japan as people rush home to celebrate with their families. Best events and festivals in Japan
Kicking off with the birthday of Emperor Hirohito on the 29th April, this is quickly followed by Constitution Memorial Day on the 3rd May, Greenery Day on the 4th May and Children’s Day on the 5th.
A time to celebrate the spirit of our ancestors, Obon is not an official holiday but is still taken very seriously by the Japanese people.
Shrines and temples are visited, fires lit and many people place lanterns outside their homes to help guide the spirits on their journey.
A fantastic opportunity to experience authentic Japanese culture, any one of these events will enhance your time in Japan and help you to understand this complex and beautiful country a little bit better.
Great post – one of my favorite countries! I to just posted only about “Hanami” cherry blossoms today :) Great minds think alike!
Thanks Joseph :) And great minds think alike indeed! Will head over to check out your post now :) Glad you enjoyed your time in Japan!
great timing on this post, thank you. had to change my rtw trip but shall be in japan early next year and this will help with timing
will only spend time in Kyoto and shall search for the mar/april festivals you listed. thanks
Definitely try and plan your trip to align with the Cherry blossoms if you can Lee – such a spectacular time of year :) Happy travels – psyched to hear that you’ll be experiencing Japan on your trip. Have a great time!
Perfectly timed post! Planning our month in Japan, and trying to be there at the best time to see the Cherry Blossoms. Thanks for opening my eyes to some of these festivals. We should be able to catch a few!
Glad it came at the right time Andrea! And psyched to hear you’ll hopefully be there in time for the Cherry Blossoms – it really is a spectacular sight to see.
Happy travels & enjoy Japan!
We were in Japan earlier this year and unfortunately just missed out on Hanami–the trees were just starting to blossom. There is a Japanese garden in Florida that has an Obon festival every year and we got to go a few times–it was great, but I would love to experience it in Japan sometime!
Sounds like the perfect reasoning for a return visit next year if you ask me :D
A festival where sweets and money are thrown into the crowd, oh yes please I’d like to go to that one. Could I get enough money to cover my airfare?
I think it is great that you’ve listed these festivals and the timings too. Naturally I’m aware of New Year and have heard of the blossoms. However with the calendar dates flagged it helps planners know what to expect and if it is likely to be a busy time of year to visit.
I know right! It’s no wonder Setsubun is one of the most popular festivals of the year!!
Glad you enjoyed the post Guy – I think New Years and the Cherry Blossoms are the two events with the most international recognition, so I’m glad I could help spread the word about some other lesser known though equally as fun traditions!
Happy travels – hope you manage to work one into your calendar soon!
Oh I love Japanese culture and have always been a huge fan of the Cherry Blossom Festival. Granted, I haven’t witnessed in in person yet, but here in Denver I’ve found they actually have a few Cherry Blossom trees right up the road and they’re gorgeous when in bloom.
I’m surprised that Obon isn’t an official holiday especially since it holds such high standings in the Japanese culture and stretches over the course of a few days. Maybe in the future then. :)
I hope you do manage a trip to Japan over the Cherry Blossom festival Ron – really is one of the most spectacular times of the year, and if you’re impressed by the display in Denver you’ll LOVE Japan!!
Even though I have never been to Japan, this post just gives me more inspiration to actually make this happen! I have always thought that Japan is the one country that I would love to visit first for an Asian trip (yeah that’s right, still never visited that continent!)
I have to admit that out of the festivals, Hanami looks awesome and incredibly relaxing but I wouldn’t say no to visiting Japan any time now after reading this post.
Hanami is definitely my favorite of the 5 – something about the cherry blossoms which is just magic! Hope you can make your way to Asia soon – Japan is a pretty fabulous destination to kick start a whirlwind tour of the continent.
Definitely try and plan an itinerary which would let you witness the cherry blossoms first hand, though really, as you’ve said too, there’s so much going on throughout the country at all times of the year that you’re never missing out!If you can’t catch one thing you can catch another :)
I’d love to visit when the cherry blossoms are in bloom! Of course, it is one of the busiest times to go but with good reason. I love looking at the cherry blossoms here in Canada when they bloom and it would be amazing to see them in Japan!
Very true – Hanami definitely does draw the crowds so it’s not the quietest time of the year to visit, though people are attracted for a reason!
I hope you have the chance to see the blooms one year in Japan – if you’re impressed by the trees in Canada, you’ll absolutely LOVE Japan :)
The Hanami!!! OMG, I was hoping to go back to Japan for next spring break but feel like I should take the opportunity to visit a new country instead. One day! One day for sure! As for Obon! I cannot believe it that I actually missed out! I was just there on that very day in Kyoto on my last day when that event was happening, but my friend and I had other things to do since we had a flight the next day. I love Japan! It’s cool to know about Setsubun and Golden Week. I didn’t know about these events! :) I would love visiting a huge event in other countries, such as Holi Festival in India :D
You almost need to spend the full year there just to make sure you catch everything!! So glad you enjoyed your time in Japan though – it’s such a magnificent country!!
And Holi Festival in India is so high on my list too! Maybe bump into you there one year!!
I’m planning to visit Japan next year so this post is a great introduction of what I might experience there! And now I really want to be part of at least one of these festivals! Thanks for the info Meg!
Excellent! Such a fabulous country, I promise you’ll love it Kami! I would say try and catch the cherry blossoms if you can – that’s easily my favorite of the 5 :)
I’ve worked in Japan twice and I loved seeing this post. Let’s see… I’ve rung in the New Year at Fushimi Inari Taisha, had numerous hanami, celebrated Obon and traveled during Golden Week.
Sounds like you’ve covered a lot of Japan Rashaad :) So glad to hear that!
Thanks for this, i was able to gather alot of info for my project for school thanks, much.
You’re welcome Claire, I’m so glad the article was helpful for you :)