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Beyond blossoms: 9 Spring festivals in Japan to leap into this 2024

Beyond blossoms: 9 Spring festivals in Japan to leap into this 2024

Spring in Japan brings vibrant cherry blossoms, traditional festivals, and mild weather. It's a time of renewal when nature bursts into colour and communities come together to celebrate the season's beauty and cultural heritage. While cherry blossoms steal the spotlight for many travellers to Japan, Japan's spring festivals offer a diverse array of cultural experiences beyond the iconic blooms. If you’re planning to visit Japan in spring time between March, April, and May, here are nine spring festivals to check out in every region!

 

1. Takikawa Nanohana Festival (Hokkaido)

(Image credit: Hokkaido Tourism Organization)

 

Since its inception in 2000, the Takikawa Nanohana Festival (たきかわ菜の花まつり) has become the star of the city's premier annual gathering, drawing approximately 100,000 attendees annually to revel in the resplendent yellow rapeseed blooms known as nanohana (菜の花). The festival showcases two main nanohana varieties: Kizaki no Natane (木崎野菜種), favoured for rapeseed oil production, and Haru no Kagayaki (春の輝き), a culinary staple. 

 

Visitors enjoy panoramic views from a dedicated viewing platform, alongside live performances and local food stalls featuring nanohana-infused delicacies. Admission is free, though it's wise to bring yen for culinary delights.

 

Takikawa Nanohana Festival (たきかわ菜の花まつり)
Festival period: Late May
Address: Ebeotsucho, Takikawa, Hokkaido 079-0463
Nearest station: Takikawa Station (滝川駅)
Access: Board the Taki-fuka line bus that goes towards the Michinoeki, and alight at the bus stop named Ebeotsu Chuo Doori (江部乙中央通り),  and walk to Michinoeki Takikawa Rest Stop

 

2. Fuijwara Spring Festival (Iwate Prefecture)

(Image credit: 岩手県観光協会)

 

Twice yearly, Hiraizumi Town (平泉町 Hiraizumi-chō) in Iwate Prefecture (岩手県 Iwate-ken), hosts the Fujiwara Spring Festival (春の藤原まつり Haru no Fujiwara Matsuri), evoking its glorious past under the Oshu Fujiwara (奥州藤原) dynasty. Held from 1–5 May, the spring festival coincides with Japan’s Golden Week, and it begins with a memorial for the Fujiwara lords, followed by a series of vibrant events. 

 

Highlights include a parade featuring Minamoto no Yoshitsune (源 義経), the Benkei Strongman Games (弁慶力餅競技大会 Benkei-ryoku mochi kyōgi taikai), and the Ennen no Mai ritual dance—one of Japan’s oldest surviving performances. Guest actors portray Yoshitsune, drawing enthusiastic fans to witness this historical reenactment. 

 

In November, the fall festival features a children's parade, traditional performances, and folk arts amidst Hiraizumi's stunning autumn scenery.

 

Fujiwara Spring Festival (春の藤原まつり)
Festival period: First week of May
Address: Osawa-58 Hiraizumi, Nishiiwai District, Iwate 029-4102
Nearest station: Hiraizumi Station (平泉駅)
Access: 10-minute walk from the station

 

3. Narita Drum Festival (Chiba Prefecture)

(Image credit: (公社) 千葉県観光物産協会)

 

Experience the rhythmic beats and cultural vibrancy of the Narita Drum Festival (成田太鼓祭 Narita Taiko Matsuri) in Chiba Prefecture (千葉県 Chiba-ken). Held annually in Narita City (成田市 Narita-shi)’s Naritasan Shinshoji Temple and as one of Japan’s largest taiko festivals, this is a must-visit for visitors travelling to Tokyo, as Narita is located just about an hour away.

 

This lively event showcases traditional wadaiko (和太鼓 traditional Japanese drums) drumming performances by over 50 local groups and renowned artists. Visitors are immersed in the pulsating sounds, intricate rhythms, and dynamic choreography, reflecting Japan's rich musical heritage. With its vibrant atmosphere and captivating displays, the Narita Drum Festival offers a memorable cultural experience for all attendees.

 

Narita Drum Festival (成田太鼓祭)
Festival period: Mid-April
Address: 1 Narita, Chiba 286-0023
Nearest station: Narita Station (成田駅)
Access: 20-minute walk from the station

 

4. Seihaku Festival (Ishikawa Prefecture)

(Image credit: 石川県観光連盟)

 

Held annually on 3–5 May, the Seihakusai Festival (青柏祭) in Nanao City (七尾市 Nanao-shi), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県 Ishikawa-ken), features massive wheeled floats, known as dekayama (でか山), towering at 12m and weighing at 20t, the largest in Japan. Each of the city's districts parades its elaborately adorned dekayama through the three districts downtown: Uomachi (魚町), Fuchumachi (府中町) and Kajimachi (鍛冶町), adorned with Kabuki scenes and district crests. Volunteers pull the floats through narrow streets to ritual chants music, and visitors are highly encouraged to join in. Traditional festivities accompany the procession, including dances, food stalls, and games.

 

Seihakusai Festival (青柏祭)
Festival period: First week of May
Address: Nanao-shi, Ishikawa 926-0000
Nearest station: Nanao Station (七尾駅)
Access: Exit the station to the main street

 

5. Omihachiman Sagicho Festival (Shiga Prefecture)

(Image credit: Biwako Visitors Bureau)

 

The Sagicho Festival (左義長まつり) in Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県 Shiga-ken) is a vibrant celebration marking the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Held annually in mid-March in the city of Omi-Hachiman (近江八幡市 Ōmi-Hachiman-shi), this centuries-old event features colourful floats, extravagant costumes, and lively parades through the streets. Participants construct elaborate floats adorned with decorations and symbols, then carry them through the town before ceremoniously setting them ablaze in a spectacular bonfire. The festival's energy and spectacle attract visitors from far and wide to partake in this exuberant cultural tradition.

 

Omihachiman Sagicho Festival (近江八幡左義長まつり)
Festival period: Mid-March
Address: 257 Miyauchi-cho, Omi-Hachiman City, Shiga 523-0828
Nearest station: Omihachiman Station (近江八幡駅)
Access: Board the Omi Bus and alight at Obatamachi Shiryōkan Mae (小幡町資料館前) and walk to the Himure hachimangu Shrine

 

6. Matsue Warrior Procession (Shimane Prefecture)

(Image credit: 公益社団法人 島根県観光連盟)

 

Every first Saturday of April, Matsue City (松江市 Matsue-shi) hosts the Matsue Musha Gyoretsu Warrior Parade (松江武者行列), commemorating the city's founding by Lord Horio Yoshiharu (堀尾 吉晴). Citizens don samurai armour, colourful kimonos of princesses, parading through the cherry blossom-filled city to their destination, Matsue Castle (松江城 Matsue-jō). This re-enactment brings to life the era of Matsue's establishment, featuring influential figures from 400 years ago. Leading up to the parade, illuminations are also set up at night at the Matsue Castle, and performances will also be held to bring out the festivity. 

 

Matsue Musha Gyoretsu Warrior Parade (松江武者行列)
Festival period: First week of April
Address: 1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887
Nearest station: Matsue Station (松江駅)
Access: 10-minute bus ride on the Lakeline Bus available outside the station
*An indoor parade may be available in case of rain

 

7. Hojo Kashima Festival (Ehime Prefecture)

(Image credit: Ehime Prefecture)

 

The Hojo Kashima Festival (北条鹿島まつり Hōjō kashima matsuri) is a revered tradition honouring the Kono Suigun (河野水軍 ), once the dominant naval force in the Seto Inland Sea (瀬戸内海 Seto Naikai). Rooted in prayers for maritime victories, it unfolds with reverence and spectacle. Central to its narrative are two events: the Kaineri Odori (櫂練踊り), showcasing the valour of seafaring men through dance, and the oshimenawa's (おしめ縄 Shinto straw ropes) ceremonial change between the Meoto-iwa rocks (夫婦岩 the Wedded Rocks).

Amidst the festivity's fervour, visitors partake in diverse activities, making each April a vibrant tapestry of Shinto rituals, dance, and historical reenactments, drawing crowds to the island of Kashima (鹿島) in Ehime Prefecture (愛媛県 Ehime-ken).

Hojo Kashima Festival (北条鹿島まつり)
Festival period: First week of May
Address: Kashima Island, Hojotsuji, Ehime 799-2430
Nearest station:  Iyo Hojo Station (伊予北条駅)
Access: 15 minutes on foot from Iyo Hojo Station to Hojo Ferry Port, followed by a 3-minute boat ride from Hojo Port. 

 

8. Ushibuka Haiya Festival (Kumamoto Prefecture)

(Image credit: 熊本県観光連盟)

 

The Ushibuka Haiya Festival (牛深ハイヤ祭り) in Kumamoto Prefecture (熊本県 Kumamoto-ken) is a vibrant celebration that dances to the rhythm of tradition. Held annually in early spring, this lively event showcases the community's dedication to preserving local folklore. The highlight is the spirited Haiya (ハイヤ) dance, where performers adorned in colourful attire move to lively beats, creating an infectious atmosphere. Beyond the dance, the festival features traditional music, delicious local cuisine, and a strong sense of community unity. Ushibuka Haiya Festival offers a unique glimpse into Kumamoto's cultural tapestry, making it a must-attend for those seeking an authentic and lively springtime experience.

 

Ushibuka Haiya Festival (牛深ハイヤ祭り)
Festival period: Mid-April
Address: Ushibuka Haiya Ohashi, Ushibuka-machi, Asakusa-shi, Kumamoto
Nearest station: Misumi Station (三角駅)
Access: Board the ferry from Amakusa Treasure Island Line Sea Cruise to Hondo Port (本渡港), followed by an hour bus ride to Ushibuka

 

9. Naha Hari/Hare (Okinawa)

(Image credit: 沖縄観光コンベンションビューロー)

 

Experience the vibrant Naha Hari (那覇ハーリー) festival in May, celebrating Okinawa's maritime heritage with exhilarating dragon boat races at Nahashin Port (那覇新港 Nahashin-kō). Drawing over 150,000 spectators during Japan's Golden Week, this three-day extravaganza features colourful boats, traditional music, dancing, and lively entertainment. Learn about the tradition's origins in fishermen's prayers for safe voyages and bountiful catches. Watch races between elaborately adorned dragon boats and smaller sabani (サバニ small dragon-shaped fishing boats) vessels, with opportunities for rides and thrilling battles before concluding with fireworks and festivities.

 

Naha Hari/Hare (那覇ハーリー)
Festival period: First week of May
Address: 1-14 Minatomachi, Naha, Okinawa 900-0001
Nearest bus stop: Tomari Takahashi Bus Stop
Access: Board bus (Bus: 20, 23, 24, 24, 28, 29, 63, 77, 110, or 120) from Naha Bus Terminal and alight at Tomari Takahashi Bus Stop, followed by a 10-minute walk 

 

Spring in Japan is a season of vibrant celebration, where the beauty of sakura blossoms is just one facet of the rich tapestry of festivals awaiting eager travellers. From the exhilarating spectacle of the Ushibuka Haiya Festival to the serene elegance of the Fuijwara Spring Festival, each event offers a unique glimpse into Japan's cultural heritage and contemporary spirit. So, as you plan your next journey, remember that spring in Japan is about more than just cherry blossoms—it's a time to immerse yourself in the diverse array of festivities that await at every turn.

 

Header image credit: 岩手県観光協会, (公社) 千葉県観光物産協会, 公益社団法人 島根県観光連盟, 熊本県観光連盟

 

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