Autumn in Japan is just as festive as its famous blooming spring. The autumn leaves of Japan change color every year starting in October, ranging from brilliantly gold ginkgo leaves to fiery red maple leaves.
It’s a time of beautiful nights and ancient traditions. No seasonal change is complete in Japan without festivals to view and celebrate its beauty, so autumn festivals are held throughout the country as a region’s leaves change color and the weather cools off.
Like many other cultures, Japan celebrates harvests in the autumn and many harvest festivals are still held today. Here are the ten best autumn festivals in Japan:
1. Otsukimi (Tsukimi)
The harvest moon is said to be the most beautiful moon of the whole year and so the whole nation of Japan celebrates it in moon-viewing festivals that occur from mid-September to late October.
This ancient autumn tradition includes decorating homes and eating white rice cakes made to look like the moon. Often friends and family celebrate together.
This night-time festival is a great way to experience what autumn truly means in Japan.
2. Takayama Autumn Festival
Considered one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan, you can find this festival every year around October 9th and 10th in Old Town Takayama.
This is the festival of the Hachiman Shrine and is also known as the Hachiman Festival. The festival is cantered around the tall and heavily decorated festival floats, or yatai.
In good weather, festival-goers can see the floats as they are displayed in the city, and go visit them in the various storehouses when the weather is bad.
Several of the floats are decorated with karakuriningyo, mechanical dolls that perform during the festival. There is also Mikoshi Procession where the shrine is processed through the festival. This festival is a very popular and lively event!
3. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival
Held annually on the first Saturday, Sunday, and Monday of October, this festival is one of the top lantern festivals in Japan.
It dates back 370 years and was first celebrated and created by the lord of Nihonmatsu Castle to encourage piety. Seven floats representing the seven parts of the city are blessed and decorated with lanterns.
It’s a lively festival, as each float has its own music and visitors shout encouragement to each other. The first night where the floats process around the city, dancing wildly, is the highlight of the event.
4. Jidai Matsuri
For a great way to learn more about Japanese history, attend this incredible festival- named “Festival of the Ages”- in Kyoto. Held on October 22, it is a large parade that travels from the Imperial Palace to Heian Shrine.
Around 2000 participants dress in historical costumes from every period of Japanese history. Some play the part of famous historical figures. The procession takes around two hours to pass by.
Not only are there some incredible costumes on display but also music is played by costumed musicians. Attendance is free, but you can get paid seating at the Kyoto Imperial Palace, in front of Kyoto City Hall, and along the approach to Heian Shrine.
Each seat costs 2500 yen and can be purchased at convenience stores or JTB travel agencies.
Every November 15, you’ll find Japanese families celebrating the custom of Shichi-Go-San, “Seven-Five-Three”.
Families with children aged seven, five, or three will visit a shrine or temple to pray for the child’s healthy growth and prosperity. This tradition originated when child mortality was much higher and has continued into the present day.
Families dress up and children receive auspicious gifts on this day. Professional photographers often document the day. Red and white chitose ame candy is given to children as well in celebration.
If you are in Japan around November 15, you will get to see families all over the country celebrate this tradition and might even get to see some parades showing off children in traditional garb.
Since the Edo era, this festival at the Asakusa shrine has been held in November on the days of the Rooster as indicated by the lunar calendar. It is a time to wish for good health, good fortune, and good business.
Many shop owners participate by selling bamboo rakes, symbols of good luck meant to rake in good fortune. These rakes are elaborately decorated with symbols of good luck and in modern times can be designed in unique fun ways.
There is an elaborate tradition of pretending to haggle that gets gratitude from shop owners and staff as well as wishes for good fortune. It’s a fun and festive atmosphere that is unique to the Asakusa area.
7. Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri
Located near Osaka, the small city of Kishiwada holds the largest danjiri matsuri (float festival) in Japan every September.
Thirty finely crafted floats are the highlight of the festival and their impressive size and artistry are augmented by the fervour of the festival’s participants.
For 300 years, neighborhood teams have come together to race these floats through the city streets. At the top of every float the daikugata (carpenter) dances, with every single float’s star having his own style.
There are many great places to see the floats, including Kishiwada’s old town and directly in front of Kispa La Park department store. Kispa is home to many stalls selling food, drinks, and souvenirs for the festival, making it a great place to enjoy this spectacle.
There is a large screen set up inside to allow for viewing the floats from the air-conditioned interior, or you can climb to the third and fourth floors to view them from the Kispa La Park parking area.
The surrounding streets can also be a great option, providing an unobstructed view, though you will have to do some walking and exploring.
8. Zuiki Matsuri
Dating back to the 900s, this festival in Kyoto is meant to express gratitude to the Kitano Tenmangūdeity for bountiful harvests.
A procession departs Kitano Tenmangū shrine to kick everything off on the first day.
The procession visits neighbourhoods and arrives at a temporary shrine where dances and other rituals are conducted. For many, the highlight is the omikoshi that accompany the procession.
These are elaborately decorated with legendary scenes and dried products of the harvest. Typically held in early October, usually October 1-5,get there by heading to Kyoto Station, then taking City Bus Route 50 or 101 to Kitano Tenmangū-mae Bus Stop.
9. Karatsu Kunchi Festival
Dating back to the Edo period, this festival Karatsu in Saga Prefecture features massive floats at the beginning of every November.
It lasts three days The floats are beautiful and huge depictions of animals and figures from Japanese legend.
This is a very lively event, with the crowd easily numbering around 500,000 people. To get to Karatsu, get to Saga Station, then take the JR Karatsu Line to Karatsu Station.
10. Kurama Fire Festival (Kurama no Hi Matsuri)
In late October, this festival held near Kyoto features watchfires lit in front of homes at sunset, where huge flaming torches weighing up to 80 pounds are carried up nearby Mount Kurama by men.
Local men don traditional warrior garb and demonstrate their strength as they parade the flaming bundles of torches through the town.
This lively festival is a glimpse into a time from long ago and well worth attending.
It is held on October 22 each year on the streets of the village just outside Kurama station. You can reach the station from Kyoto Station.