Japanese culture likes to celebrate all year long and their summer festivals are especially amazing. Many of them have ancient histories, closely tied to the history and spiritual significance of the location where they are held. These Japanese summer festivals are spectacular. They educate and entertain both visitors and locals alike.

Yosakoi festival in Kochi. Photo Credit: 工房 やまもも at Flickr.

If you have the time to visit Japan during the summer, it can be hard to know which of the many summer festivals held in Japan are occurring, where they are, or even which ones you want to attend. This guide to the 10 best summer festivals in Japan can help you know when, where, and what to expect as you plan your trip.

In addition, there is a list of top Japanese summer festivals including dates and locations. Click here to see them all.

1) Gion Matsuri, Kyoto

One of the giant floats of the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto. Photo Credit: DocChewbacca at Flickr.

This is festival of the Yasaka Shrine, held in Kyoto over the entire month of July. It consists of many events; from festive evenings to the famous grand procession of floats that happens on July 17th The floats in the grand procession are massive and elaborately decorated, well worth seeing in person.

Pictures don’t do their enormity or detailed construction justice. You can even enter some of the floats before they go on parade. The procession itself occurs between 9:00 and 11:30.

Gion Matsuri dates back to 869 and has an almost uninterrupted history. It was originally held to appease the gods after an outbreak of disease. The festivals till follows many traditions set at its beginning, including selecting a local boy to be a divine messenger. This messenger can’t set foot on the ground from July 13thuntil the end of the parade on July 17th.

2) Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, Aomori

Decorated floats of Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. Photo Credit: tsuda at Flickr.

This festival is also centered around a grand procession of heavily decorated floats, held in Aomori City from August 2nd to August 7th. The floats take over a year to design and construct. They are made of painted washi paper over a wire frame. They depict a number of scenes and figures from Japanese culture, Chinese culture, kabuki actors, and more.

The floats are displayed downtown every night of the festival up until August 7th. All of them are pushed along by hand and seem to dance as they spin and weave for the crowd. There are also teams of taiko drummers, flute players, cymbal players, and hundreds of dancers.

You can find both free and paid reserved seating along the parade route. You can even join in the skip-like dancing if you buy or rent some of the traditional haneto dancing costumes from local shops around town.

Read this page to know more about this famous Japanese summer matsuri.

3) Tenjin Matsuri, Osaka

Tenjin Matsuri. Photo Credit: elmimmo at Flickr.

Tenjin Matsuri literally means “Festival of the Gods”. It is held in Osaka on July 24th and 25th. This festival is over 1000 years old. It’s dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the Japanese god of scholarship and learning.

It begins on the 24th with prayers in the morning at the Osaka Tenmangu Shrine and amazing performances from taiko drummers and a Danjiri dragon dancer. The second day is full of performances and parades, with festival goers in summer kimonos. All of these events are capped by an amazing fireworks display.

4) Tokushima Awa Odori, Tokushima

Awa Odori in Tokushima. Photo Credit: Rosino at Flickr.

This festival is held in Tokushima in mid-August, typically August 12th through the 15th. Be sure to check the latest info to get the exact dates for that year. The festival welcomes the souls of ancestors. It is best known through Japan for this phrase: “It’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches! If both are fools, you might as well have fun dancing!”

The festival dates back to 1587 when it was held to celebrate the completion of Tokushima Castle. During the day, you can watch dozens of dancers perform on stage, while at night the dancing ramps up and even begins to include spectators.

5) Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, Miyagi

Tanabata at Sendai Station. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Sendai is the largest city of the Tohoku Region. A trip to the city during summer, especially in early August is not complete without a visit to Sendai Tanabata Festival. This festival is held in downtown Sendai August 6th through August 7th. It is known for the thousands of brightly colored streamers that decorate the city.

Every one of them is handcrafted by local businesses, schools, and community organizations from washi appear and bamboo. In the midst of all this color, there are numerous stages and food vendors, as well as plenty of live music and traditional dance performances.

6) Akita Kanto Matsuri, Akita

A participant tries to balance a long bamboo pole (kanto). Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This festival’s name means “pole lantern festival” It is held in Akita City every August 3rd to 6th. Its main feature is the performers who balance long bamboo poles (kanto) arrayed with appear lanterns as they move positions.

These performers add more and more extensions to the pole until they reach their maximum height. These performances occur at night, but there are also daytime events and activities held at the Agora Plaza.

Interested in learning more about this festival? Please visit this page. Thank you.

7) Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival, Tokyo

Don’t miss this hanabi event if you travel around Tokyo in late July. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Often it is said that Tokyo is a city of many eye-catching fireworks festivals. Whether you believe it or not, Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is considered the oldest fireworks festival in the country. That’s an interesting fact! This amazing fireworks display is held on the last Saturday of July in old town Tokyo.

There are many speculations about its origins, ranging from a simple way of enjoying the cool weather during the summer to an attempt to appease a water deity or the souls of the dead. It is held almost every year, though the weather can force it to be postponed.

8) Soma Nomaoi Festival, Fukushima

Samurai Procession of the Soma-Nomaoi Festival. Photo Credit: Hajime NAKANO at Flickr.

Soma-Namaoi is held in Fukushima on the last Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of July. It is a celebration of the region’s horse-breeding heritage. One of the highlights is the Koshiki Kacchu Keiba. 12 samurai horsemen, wearing armor and helmets, carrying katana swords, race against each other for 1,000 meters.

Another even you should see is Shinki Sodatsusen, where several hundred samurai horsemen complete for 40 shrine flags that are shot into the air with fireworks. There are numerous other displays and processions throughout the three days. Going to this festival is like a window into the past.

9) Yosakoi Festival, Kochi

Participants perform exciting dancing during the Yosakoi Matsuri in Kochi. Photo Credit: 工房 やまもも at Flickr.

Kochi offers a list of exciting things to do for visitors throughout the year. During the summer, without question Yosakoi matsuri is the grand attraction of the city. This festival is held Kochi from August 10th to 11th, as it has been for over 60 years.

This is a highly energetic festival visited by people from around the world. Dancers carry wooden clappers and dance, placing the city in a highly festive mood. There are many stages and numerous attractions, so you’re sure to see something amazing.

10) Sanno Matsuri, Tokyo

Opening ceremony of the Sanno Matsuri at Hie Shrine, Tokyo. Photo Credit: Hie Jinja.

Every year, Tokyo city hosts several well-known summer festivals. It’s believed that Sanno matsuri is one of the three most famous festivals of Tokyo along with the Kanda Matsuri, and Fukagawa Matsuri. This festival is held in Tokyo in the middle of June in even-numbered years.

Its main event is a great parade that winds through central Tokyo including Tokyo Station, Ginza, and in front of the National Diet Building. Usually, the parade of the matsuri starts and ends at Hie Shrine. This is much smaller than many other summertime parades throughout Japan, but it has been conducted in the city since the Edo period. Attending is a view into ancient Japan.