Well, to be honest, that’s a loaded question. Japan has amazing things to offer year round regardless of when you go. Each season shows a different side of beauty, culture, and fun in different parts of the country.
What do you think of first when you think of Japan? Beautifully crafted temples? Elegant kimonos? Brave and honorable samurai warriors? Or, how about those cherry blossoms (Sakura)? Maybe the cherry blossom festival comes to mind. When thinking about Japan nature and festivals (Matsuri) aren’t going to be to far from the top of the list. The Japanese have some of the most stunning nature you can lay your eyes on as well as some amazing festivals year round.
To say when you should go will have both advantages and disadvantages because each season gives new nature to see or another festival to experience. It really depends on what YOU want to experience in Japan. What kind of things to you want to see? Maybe there’s a certain seasonal dish you would like to try. Or you want to attend a specific festival.
Instead of telling you when you should go, I’m going to give you a quick run down of different seasonal things you can see and experience in Japan. Each with be lightly touched on as there will be more in depth discussions about them in the future.
Japan in Spring
Flowers are very important to the Japanese. Much like in other places different flowers can hold different meanings.
- –Camellia (Tsubaki): Meaning- Humility, Discretion, Perfect love
- –Violets (Sumire): Meaning- Love, Sincerity, Small Bliss
- –Cherry Blossoms (Sakura): Meaning- Accomplishment, Beauty of Heart. Cherry blossoms are Japan’s national flower.
- –Peach (Momo): Meaning- Fascinating Personality
- –Prima Sieboldii (Sakurasou): Meaning- Desire, Long Lasting Love
- –Red Tulip (Akaichurippu): Meaning- Fame, Eternal Love
These festivals are just some that take place in Tokyo in the spring months.
–Sanja Matsuri: On the 3rd Saturday of May up to 2 million party goes come together for Tokyo’s biggest and wildest festival. As they sponsor many of the festival’s Mikoshi (Divine Palanquin or portable Shinto Shrine) the Yakuza play a prominent role in the festival.
–Kanda Matsuri: The closest weekend to May 15th this is one of Tokyo’s big 3 festivals. Around 100 mikoshi will parade through the streets. The festival is also joined by dancers.
–Tokyo International Anime Fair: At the end of March the first two days are exclusive to industry insiders. The last two days are open to the public. This is the largest anime trade show in the world with 100s of booths as well as the Tokyo Anime Awards.
–Ueno Sakura Matsuri: End of March or beginning of April, depending on when the Sakura bloom. There are many beautiful spots to view the yearly blossoms around Tokyo.
–Kurayami Matsuri: Held in early May has been held for nearly 2000 years in Tokyo. The name translates into “dark night” festival. The tradition for this festival leads homes to dim their lights on the evening of the festival. Included in the festivities are mikoshi parades, music, horse riding, and lantern hanging competitions.
Japan in Summer
- –Sunflower (Himawari): Meaning- Adoration, Loyalty, Longevity
- –Morning Glory (Asagao): Meaning- Brief Love, Bond of Love
- –Hydrangea (Ajisai): Meaning- Apologies, Gratitude
- –Lotus (Suiren): Meaning- Far From the One You Love
- –Bellflower (Kikyo): Meaning- Unchanging Love, Honesty, Obedience
- –Iris (Shobu): Meaning: Good News, Glad Tidings, Loyalty
- –Lavender (Rabenda): Meaning- Faithful
-Mitama Matsuri: July 12th to the 15th in Tokyo. Taking place at Yasukuni Jinja Shrine near Kudanshita Station twenty thousand lanterns will light the shrine for four days. Traditional food stalls will line the main ally of the temple. The festival will also hold traditional dances, theatrical performances, and floats. Those attending will often wear yukata which is a traditional kimono made of lightweight cotton.
-Gion Matsuri: This festival takes place for the entire month at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto with the most popular events being held on July 14th to July 17th. Gion Matsuri dates back to the ninth century and is famous for it’s floats. These floats can reach up to 25 meters in height and weigh 12 tons. There may be thirty or more floats at the festival, each represent a neighborhood or corporation in Kyoto.
-Aomori Nebuta Matsuri: Held from August 1st to the 6th Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is considered to be on of the top three Japanese festivals and had been designated as a “World Intangible Cultural Heritage” event. Dancers carry illuminated floats every evening. The parades will last for hours until the final day when the lit floats will be sent afloat on the sea.
Japan in Fall
-Chrysanthemum (Kiku): Meaning- Noble, Trust, Purity
- -Orange Osmanthus (Kinmokusei): Meaning- Truth, Noble Person
- -Cosmos (Kosumosu): Meaning- Cleanliness, Love
- -Red Rose (Akaibara): Meaning- Romance
- -Carnation (Kaneshon): Meaning- Love
–Sapporo Autumn Festival: For the last two weeks of September this celebration is Hokkaido’s biggest food festival and includes many gourmet items such as locally grown agricultural products and fresh-caught seafood to be pairs with delectable wines and sake. Included are several themed venues, each with their own unique vendors, dishes, and atmosphere.
–Jidai Matsuri and Kurama Fire Festival: Held on October 22nd Judai Matsuri includes a historical costume procession from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to Heian-jingu Shrine. After the procession you can take a train to the nearby mountain village of Kurama for the Kurama Fire Festival that evening.
–Kamiari Matsuri: Taking place typically November, this festival can vary on its date. It takes place from the 10th to the 17th day of the 10th month based on the old lunar calendar. In Shinto beliefs all of Japan’s deities, or Kami, assemble at Izumo Shrine once a year. People will flock to the shrine in hopes of having their prayers answered.
Japan in Winter
- -Amaryllis (Amaririsu): Meaning- Shyness, Pride
- -Japanese Apricot (Ume): Meaning- Elegance, Faithfulness, Pure Heart
–Oniyo Fire Matsuri: On January 7th party goers can make their way to Daizanji Tamataregu Shrine in Fukuoka for one of Japan’s major fire festivals, a 1,600 year tradition. This festival takes place to drive away evil spirits. A fire is guarded at the shrine for a week until a gathering of mean dressed in loincloths transfer the flame to six giant torches and parade them around the grounds of the large shrine. On a special note, it one of the torch embers falls on you it is considered good luck.
–Sapporo Snow Matsuri: Held from January 31st to February 2nd, this is Japan’s premier snow festival. Held on the country’s northern most island you can expect to see things like a replica of St. Paul’s Cathedral which was one of the highlights of a previous year. The beautiful and elegant creations are lit up with mesmerizing light shows.
–Otaru Lanterns: In February located 30 minutes from Sapporo by train is Otaru which holds beautiful snow lanterns every year.
No mater the time of year there is always something new to experience and enjoy on your trip for you enjoy. Now you may be thinking, “Yeah Kira that’s great, but what about cost? When is it less expensive to travel? When is the raining season? I would prefer to not go to Japan with a monsoon heading toward it!” I get it. Here we covered just a small part of the nature and festivals you can see. Part 2 will handle the costs of different times of travel as well as what you can expect from the weather while you’re there. Until then, enjoy some flowers and plan your next matsuri!