JAN – FEB – MAR
Jan 24 • Mt. Wakakusa, Nara
First they set the countryside ablaze in some crazy inferno and then launch fireworks to celebrate.
Jan 14 • Shitennoji Temple, Osaka
Men in loincloths charge around the temple in freezing cold temperatures. It’s good luck apparently.
Feb 1–Mar 15, 10am • Nara Park
A man with a big french horn calls the deer back home for a snack with a verse from Beethoven’s 6th in this daily spring event.
Nipponbashi Street Festa
Mar 21 • Nipponbashi, Osaka
Cosplay fanatics, manga fans and anime geeks gather in Western Japan’s biggest anime event.
Jan 1 • Everywhere
Join the throngs and pay your respects at the local shrine to wish for a prosperous and healthy Year of the Sheep. Take home a hamaya arrow for even better fortune.
Katsube Fire Festival
Jan 10, Katsue Jinja, Shiga
Brave the winter cold to catch one of the biggest religious events in Shiga. Local men in loincloths dance around huge bonfires to ward off evil spirits.
Chinese New Year
Feb 19 • Nankinmachi, Kobe
Celebrate the New Year Chinese style as Chinatown in Kobe marks the event with traditional dragon dancing and other street entertainment.
Plum Blossoms Late
Feb–Mar • Osaka Castle park, Osaka
Throughout February and March the orchard comes alive with hues of pink, red and white as the some 100 varieties of plum trees blossom.
Himeji Castle re-opens
Mar 27 • Himeji Castle, Hyogo
The long wait is finally over! This World Heritage castle has been restored to its former (and very white) glory. They don’t call it the White Heron Castle for nothing.
APR – MAY – JUN
Osaka Sumo Basho
Mar 8–22 • Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium
Around 700 of Japan’s biggest gladiators will descend on Osaka for the annual Osaka Sumo Tournament. A sight to behold.
May 15 • Kyoto Imperial Palace and Surroundings, Kyoto
One of the oldest festivals in Kyoto, this slow-moving parade of people wearing colourful historical costumes moves from the Imperial palace to Kamigamo-jinja via Shimogamo-jinja.
Nagahama Hikiyama Festival
Apr 13–16 • Nagahama Hachimangu Shrine, Shiga
Richly decorated floats that double as mini kabuki theaters are paraded around town in this 400-year-old festival and features traditional kabuki plays performed by children.
Belgian Beer Weekend Osaka 2015
Early June • Umeda Sky Bldg., Osaka
This festival brings 50+ different brews across 10 categories – Pilsners, Golden Ales, fruit beers, Trappist beers made by monks, and more – to Umeda Sky Building for five days in June.
Nara Spring Festival
May 3–6 • Heijo-kyo Palace site, Nara
Colorful period-costumes galore on view at this annual jamboree, spread over the three-day Golden Week period, in celebration of Nara’s 1,300 year history.
Janjaka Odori Dance
Apr 27 • Dojoji Temple, Wakayama
A high-energy religious dance that re-enacts an ancient fable using a 25m-long papier-mache serpent.
Higashi Omi Giant Kite Festival
May 25 • Fureai Undo Park, Shiga
Hundreds of kites on display at this annual kite flying contest, including the largest kite in Japan, measuring 15 meters high by 12 meters wide and weighing some 700 kilograms!
Otaue Shinji Rice Planting Festival
Jun 14 • Sumiyoshi Taisha, Osaka
An ancient rice planting festival in the heart of Osaka. Complete with paddies tilled by oxen.
JUL – AUG – SEP
Gion Matsuri Main parades on Jul 17 & 24 • Kyoto Kyoto’s infamous month-long summer festival has to be experienced at least once. Grand floats are hauled around the main streets in the centerpiece event, with a supporting cast of period cos-players providing a visual feast.
Daimonji Gozan Fire Festival Aug 16 • Kyoto Enormous bonfires in the shape of chinese characters and other motifs are set ablaze in this highlight of the Kyoto festival calendar.
Summer Sonic Aug 15 & 16 • Maishima Island Osaka Osaka’s very own Fuji Rock festival. This two-day outdoor music festival gets bigger each year and attracts big names from all corners of the globe. Hot, sweaty, good times.
Biwako Fireworks Display Aug 8 • Otsu, Shiga One of the best summer fireworks displays in Kansai.
Tenjin Matsuri Jul 24 & 25 • Osaka Temmangu Shrine If Kyoto’s summer festival is refined and understated, Osaka’s 1,000 year old festival is big, bold and brash! It’s an extravagant orgy of historical parades, burning boats, breathtaking fireworks and thousands of yukata-clad revellers.
Taga Lantern Festival Aug 3–5 • Taga Taisha, Shiga Thousands of paper lanterns illuminate the streets around this ancient temple in Shiga, providing some wonderful photo opportunities.
Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri Sep 19 & 20 • Kishiwada, Osaka Richly carved danjiri floats from each district are raced through the narrow streets at high speed, in a dazzling display of bravado.
OCT – NOV – DEC
Nada Kenka fighting festival
Oct 11 & 12 • Matsubara Hachiman Shrine, Himeji
Watch as opposing troops of local men ferociously clash their danjiri floats together. Outright carnage.
Oct 22 • Imperial Palace, Kyoto
A two kilometer costume procession that lasts five hours, featuring around 2,000 people dressed in colourful period costumes, ranging from the classical Heian era to the Meiji era.
Kurama fire festival
Oct 22 • Kurama, Kyoto
Local men dressed in loincloths and hachimaki headbands, carry enormous flaming torches to the local shrine in this ancient, but frantic ceremonial event. Expect big crowds but a great photo opportunity.
3 • Naniwa-no-miya Former Palace Site, Osaka
A colorful carnival of dance, music and ethnic food, commemorating historical cultural exchange between Japan and other Asian countries.
Nov 3 • Tanzan-Jinja, Nara
An opportunity to see a display of the Heianera ball game kemari. A bit like football, only much more elegant and played in highly impractical outfits.
Osaka Castle 3D Mapping
Dec–Mar • Nishinomaru Garden, Osaka Castle
Walk amongst beautiful illuminations and watch a 3D Mapping show where weird and wonderful graphics are projected onto the white castle walls in time with dramatic audio effects.
Tengu no Sakamori
Nov 8 • Otagi Nenbutsuji Temple, Kyoto
Priests dressed as mythical Japanese Tengu shoot arrows and beat drums in this unusual festival held each autumn to ward off evil spirits.
Nov 23 • Tado Taisha, Mie
Yabusame is a religious ritual in which mounted archers speed along a straight 200m course and attempt to hit three targets in order to purify the shrine and bring prosperity for the coming year. Exhilarating stuff.
Ako Gishi (47 Ronin Festival)
Dec 14 • Banshu-Ako Stn, Hyogo
December 14 marks the anniversary of the 47 samurai heroes who took revenge on the death of their lord in the Edo period. Visit the hometown of these heroes and watch the parades and exciting reenactments.
Sennin Buro Hot Spring
Dec–Feb • Kawayu Onsen, Wakayama
A giant public bath set on the riverbank under the sky is open for free. With an optional do-it-yourself element, you can dig your own onsen or bathe in one already prepared.
First half of Dec • Motomachi, Kobe
A light festival held to commemorate the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Over 200,000 individually hand painted lights decorate the streets in the form of giant illuminated archways.