The 3 Great Festivals of Japan

by Luke - TripleLights travel specialist

Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo, the three most popular places visted by tourists each year, and famous for the three greatest festivals of Japan. Festivals dating back over a thousand years, and attracting spectators from all over the world. if you are lucky enough to be in Japan when any of these events are taking place, be sure not to miss them, as each is spectacular in its own way:

Tenjin Matsuri (Osaka)

The 3 Great Festivals of Japan

(image by flickr.com)

In 951, two years after Osaka’s Tenman-gu Shrine was established, a sacred spear, a kamihoko, washed up on the beach in front of the shrine, and when a Shinto ritual was held at the funeral hall established on that beach, the procession of ships escorting the divine spirits out (funatogyo) was the beginning of the Tenjin Matsuri, a festival boasting a 1000-year-old history that is one of Japan’s three great festivals. Centering upon Osaka’s Tenman-gu, there is a festival-eve vigil on July 24th with July 25th as the actual day of the festival. In recent years, gyaru mikoshi and a dedicated fireworks show have been established as festival events, and the energetic festival itself is continuing to carve out a history while being sensitive to the generations.

The gyaru mikoshi, which celebrates 35 years in 2015, is popular as an event lending grace to the Tenjin Matsuri. It’s an event that was started as a cheerful creation of a local amenity to promote the area and boost Osakan culture. The official name of the event is the Tenjin Matsuri Women’s O-mikoshi, and up to 80 women between the ages of 15 and 30 are openly recruited, and on July 23rd, the day prior to the festival-eve, the women carry a portable shrine weighing 200kg from Tenjinbashi Suji Shopping District and parade it to Tenman-gu Shrine. On July 24th, there is the excitement of crowning Miss Tenjinbashi.

Following the festival at the main hall of Tenman-gu Shrine on July 24th, the 1000-year-old festival launches with the Hokonagashi-shinji ritual. At the main shrine on the 25th from about 3 p.m. the rikutogyo procession begins with moyo-oshi daiko drummers leading a total of 3000 people wearing brilliant clothing and carrying the mikoshi in a huge parade for 3km to Tenjinbashi, the starting point for the funatogyo. From about 6 p.m. the ships carrying the mikoshi depart on Okawa River, an amazing procession that has 100 boats. And from 7:30, on the banks of the river, the festival reaches a climax as a fireworks show is held with 4000 explosions.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Tenjin Matsuri
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Tenjin Matsuri
Tours of Tenjin Matsuri

Gion Festival (Kyoto)

The 3 Great Festivals of Japan

(image by flickr.com)

The Gion Festival, one of Japan’s three great festivals, is a religious celebration that has continued at Yasaka Shrine for 1100 years, and for 1 month from July 1st to July 31st every year, it’s held at the shrine and in the central area of Kyoto. Starting with the Yamaboko Junko parade and the Shinko Festival, various events unfold. At the Shinsen-en Temple where a giant garden of the ancient capital existed, 66 halberds representing the 66 territories within Japan at the time stand in worship of the Gion gods, and the prayers for the prevention of disasters began from here. The yamaboko floats are decorated with ornaments from all places and times so that they have also been called moving museums, and since they fulfill the role of cleansing the city of evil spirits during the parade, they are promptly dismantled once the parade ends.

The parade is separated into the saki-matsuri (former parade) and ato-matsuri (latter parade), and the 3 days prior to each parade are called the yoiyama. The yoiyama events for the saki-matsuri are held on July 14th-16th, with paper lanterns on the yamaboko floats being lit up and goods such as charms and folding fans being sold. In addition, boarding passes are sold so that you can ride on the floats during the yoiyama only. On the 15th and the 16th, the streets are closed off to automobile traffic, so many people enjoy the street stalls that are set up. On the day of the saki-matsuri, the 17th, 23 yamaboko floats depart at 9 a.m. from the Shijo-Kawaramachi area, and the Shimenawa-kiri event at Shijo-Fuyacho and the Tsuji-mawashi event where the floats are turned at every intersection are the biggest highlights. From 4 p.m. on the same day, the Shinko Festival is held and 3 portable shrines (mikoshi) from Yasaka Shrine are paraded through Kyoto until about 8 p.m. Events for the ato-matsuri are held on July 21st-23rd, and although street stalls are not present, at the ato-matsuri on the 24th, 10 floats start from Karasuma-Oike and go on a course that is the reverse for that of the saki-matsuri. The spectacle of these giant yamaboko floats, reaching up to a maximum of 12t, parading through the streets of Kyoto is amazing. The saki-matsuri which is the livelier of the two parades is a great event that cannot be missed.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Gion Festival
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Gion Festival
Tours of Gion Festival

Sanno Festival (Tokyo)

The 3 Great Festivals of Japan

(image by flickr.com)

The Sanno Festival has a history which began from the Edo Era, and is said to be one of the Three Great Festivals of Edo alongside the Kanda Festival and the Fukagawa Festival. Under the protection of Edo Castle, it was first launched as an annual festival of Hie Shrine which garnered considerable support from the shogunate, and that tradition continues even today. The elegant and refined procession that evokes history is exactly like the world of a dynastic picture scroll. It is truly unique to have this appearance of traditionally costumed people walking through the streets in an atmosphere of a city center. It is held in alternate years with the Kanda Festival which is also one of the Three Great Festivals of both Edo and Japan, and its scale and grandeur makes the Sanno Festival the ideal celebration as one of the three great festivals representing the nation.

The Sanno Festival is held in the middle of June in even-numbered years. During the Edo Era, floats and mikoshi (portable shrines) were allowed to enter Edo Castle, and so generations of shogun enjoyed the event that was called the Tenka Festival. The Jinkosai which is the procession of 500 people garbed in ancient court costumes is the biggest highlight of the Sanno Festival. The 300m festival parade is beautifully rich in pageantry with its series of ornamented floats and mikoshi. Departing from Hie Shrine in Akasaka, the procession winds itself through Tokyo Station, Nihonbashi, Ginza and other districts in the heart of the city and stops off at the Imperial Palace. During the long period of the festival which lasts for about 10 days, there is a variety of lively events held such as “The Children’s Festival” that prays for good health and growth for children as represented by kids wearing traditional costumes, the “Kagurabayashi” featuring traditional entertainment, and tea ceremonies. With these dignified yet friendly events, this is the perfect opportunity to get a feel of Japan while easily enjoying a festival.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Sanno Festival 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Sanno Festival 
Tours of Sanno Festival 

Need help planning your trip to Japan ?

If you are interested to know more and save your time during your trip to Japan, You can send a message to our local guides to get a customized itinerary and quotation for an unforgettable experience.

In the TripleLights website you can find the best professional guides all over Japan to help you plan your trip. Check our local guides for Japan


16 Oct 2015

Plan your trip to Japan

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started

Recent Tour Reviews

“ Amazing tour in a day! ”

Excellent
2 hours ago Traveler: Amanda -   Tour Guide: Yuki

Yuki was so knowledgeable and had so much insight on our tour. Yuki also helped us learn and use the subway so we were able to spend the next few days navigating the city on our own! Would definitely recommend Yuki!!!
read more

“ Fantastic introduction to Tokyo ”

Excellent
2 hours ago Traveler: Gillian -   Tour Guide: Yuki

We had a day long tour with Yuki on the first day of our holidays. It was excellent. We found Yuki to be extremely informative and interesting. We really appreciated the way he explained things and personalised the tour to our tastes. We visited Meiji Shrine, Tsukiji market, Hama-Rykyu Gardens, took a boat trip and ended the day at Sensoji Temple. In addition Yuki brought us to an amazing sushi re...
read more

“ Terrific afternoon in and around Gion! ”

Excellent
4 hours ago Traveler: Cindy -   Tour Guide: Ai

We’re so happy we booked with AI! My husband and I and our two daughters (ages 5 and 10) are visiting Japan from NY, and had just under 2 days in Kyoto. Ai was enthusiastic, positive, and flexible, showing us all around Yasaka Hill, Kiyomizu temple, and surrounding areas in Gion. She was lovely with the girls and they really enjoyed spending time with her. We made frequent stops for snacks, souven...
read more

“ 3 days in Japan on Family vacation ”

Excellent
5 hours ago Traveler: Erin -   Tour Guide: Kazuhiko

We had Kazuhiko for 3 days with 3 adults and 4 children while on shore excursions from a Royal caribbean cruise. We enjoyed his quick pace and friendly manner. He is knowledgeable, flexible and focused on making the most of the day. We asked many questions and he answered them all. He helped secure quick and efficient transportation. I would highly recommend Kazu, he was a pleasure to plan and org...
read more

“ Excellent private tour of Kyoto with Naoko ”

Excellent
7 hours ago Traveler: Hiep -   Tour Guide: NAOKO

I researched several private tour guides while planning my trip to Kyoto. Naoko was the best option out of all the guides I looked into. She made the process very easy. Naoko was quick to reply to emails and provided answers to all my questions. I really appreciated how efficient the tour was. She provided great recommendations and helped create an unforgettable day in Kyoto. Naoko was awesome...
read more

“ Fantastic Guide! ”

Excellent
8 hours ago Traveler: Caroline -   Tour Guide: Hiro

Hiro was very punctual, he met us at the lobby of our hotel equipped with maps and a keepsake and briefed us on what we were going to see in Tokyo. He took us to see all the sights and helped us with our JR passes and showed us how to use the subway. He was very knowledgeable , helpful and pleasant. He also took pictures of us and videos and made a montage for us which was much appreciated . Highl...
read more

“ A knowledgeable, funny, thoughtful and kind guide! ”

Excellent
10 hours ago Traveler: Holly -   Tour Guide: HIROKO

Simply put, we could not have managed our excursions without Hiroko. From the very first emaill, she went out of her way to help and accommodate our questions and requests in any way she could. The minute we met her, it was as if we already had a good friend in Tokyo. Warm, funny, caring and flexible with excellent English speaking skills. Hiro is not only extremely knowledgeable about the ...
read more

“ Excellent guide and well worth booking Kaneo’ ”

Excellent
11 hours ago Traveler: Todd -   Tour Guide: Kaneo

Kaneo planned out our route and day with precision as we went to many of the places you would want to see. An excellent guide that took the time to ensure we were happy. Always smiling and a great attitude that my 11 year old son and I were very happy with. I’d book him again no question.
read more

“ A wonderful first day in Tokyo guided by Kyoko ”

Excellent
12 hours ago Traveler: Rob -   Tour Guide: Kyoko

We started our weeks tour of japan in Tokyo with a lovely day exploring the fish market,asakura old town and harajuki..Kyoko gave us plenty of useful information to help us understand life in this fabulous city. We balanced the day by visiting both key temples and shrines, aswell as some of the best shopping areas to keep our kids occupied and interested too.Kyoko also found a great spot for lunch...
read more

“ Evening Tour if Osaka ”

Excellent
13 hours ago Traveler: Aaron -   Tour Guide: MAKOTO

Makoto was EXCELLENT! It’s hard to request a city tour to see everything if you only have a few hours—almost impossible for a guide. Makoto did it! He was timely, kept us on track and provided the best, knowledgeable tour anyone could ask for. Makoto guided my family which included myself, wife and 16year old son. Makoto worked well with us all. Excellent use of public transportation to keep...
read more

Related cities

Plan your trip to Japan

Chat with a local tour guide who can help organize your trip.
Get Started