Welcoming Spring: April Festivals in Japan



By Contributor
Diego Rojas

Warmer temperatures are starting to thaw out the snow, and the intensity that comes with the winter festivals is fading. Locals around the country are getting set for one of their favorite seasons, spring! As warmth fills the air, a new round of matsuri or festivals takes over people’s minds and hearts.
Bringing out portable shrines for spring from Flickr cc by Kimon Berlin
Spring's colorful festival line-up includes the drama of men shooting arrows from galloping horses, life-size puppets dazzling crowds with their performances, and shirtless men running under fireworks to honor the gods. These April matsuri will take you around central Kanto to Kanagawa, Shizuoka, Gifu, and Tochigi prefectures. The festivals are the perfect opening act for the cherry blossom season.

4/1- 4/3 ENSHU YOKOSUKA MIKUMANO SHRINE GRAND FESTIVAL

Official poster from Mikumano Jinja Shrine in Shizuoka
  • Venue: Mikumano Jinja Shrine, Kakegawa City, Shizuoka Prefecture
  • Other information: Held between April 1st and April 3rd
  • Access: 20 minutes by train from Tokaido Honsen Fukuroi Station; shuttles may be operating, but no schedules are available
One of Shizuoka Prefecture’s main festivals, this event has over 280 years of history dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868). The matsuri is one of the most traditional in the region. Thirteen glamorously decorated mikoshi or portable shrines are carried and steered around to the music of drums and chanting. The parade of floats progresses around Mikumano Jinja Shrine and onto the streets, where participants meet the crowds surrounded by blooming cherry blossoms. Enjoy this great opportunity to see the Japanese people let their guard down and have a good time. The high-spirited performances, thanks in part to lots of beer and sake, make this a very colorful and memorable experience.

THE SECOND SATURDAY OF APRIL: TEJIKARA NO HI MATSURI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSE9E0qGEO0
  • Venue: Tejikarao Jinja Shrine, Kuranomae, Gifu City
  • Other information:  18:30 to 21:10
  • Access: Take Kakumurahara Line from Meitetsu Gifu Station and get off at Tejikara Station. The shrine is a 5-minute walk away
The Tejikara no Hi Matsuri has been held for 300 years and is designated as an Important Intangible Folk Culture Asset by Gifu Prefecture. Locals participate in the festival to wish for a good harvest and appeal to the gods through sound and fire. A dramatic and unique matsuri, local men carry the mikoshi on their shoulders. They run under a cascade of fiery sparks falling from towering bamboo lanterns built specifically for the festival.

4/10- 4/17: KAMAKURA MATSURI

Archer at the spring festival in Kamakura from Flickr cc by Michelle Grimord Eggers
This matsuri is a traditional spring festival held annually in the historic town of Kamakura to honor the memory of Princess Shizuka, a Japanese heroine, and to remember the culture of medieval samurai society. The festival centers around a commemorative shizuka no mai dance and yabusame (horseback archery), where archers on galloping horses shoot arrows at targets in front of massive crowds. With the number of skilled archers decreasing rapidly in Japan, this experience is worth viewing before it disappears. You can enjoy the weeklong festival through the streets of the town when the mikoshis and horses are paraded outside of the shrine.

4/14 & 4/15: TAKAYAMA FESTIVAL (SANNO MATSURI)

Large portable shrines at the Sanno Matsuri from Flickr cc by Paul Robinson
  • Venue: Hie Jinja Shrine, Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture
  • Other information: Held on April 14th and 15th. On rainy occasions, the floats can be seen from the float storehouse
  • Access: A 25-minute walk from Takayama Station. Take the Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo Station to Nagoya Station. Change to the JR Takayama Honsen Line
The Takayama Festival encompasses the Sanno Matsuri in the spring and the Hachiman Matsuri in the fall. With a massive parade and a display of 15th-century artisanship for which Takayama was famous for in the past, Takayama Festival is considered one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan. Highlights are the Tokeiraku parade where people dance around with bird feathers on their heads, a shishimai lion dance, and a procession of the yatai floats carrying intricate marionettes that dazzle the audience with their dextrous moves. At night, the floats are adorned with paper lanterns creating a wonderful scene.

4/13-4/17: YAYOI FESTIVAL

Amazing spring decorations on portable shrines from Flickr cc by Hetarllen Mumriken
  • Venue: Futarasan Jinja Shrine, Nikko City, Tochigi Prefecture
  • Other information: This matsuri is also known as the “Festival of Disputes” as the customs must be observed meticulously, and any mistakes are an excuse for conflict between community leaders
  • Access: Take the “Sekai-isan-meguri-jyunkan bus” and get off at “Taiyuin-futarasan-jinjya-mae” for fast access; Or an 8-minute walk from the Nishisando bus stop in Nikko
Dating back to the eighth century and held at a World Heritage site, this very traditional festival sees ancient customs observed down to the smallest detail. The main attraction at the Yayoi Festival is a parade of 11 floats decorated with colorful flowers representing the beginning of spring. One unexpected highlight of the festival occurs when the heavy floats are lowered with ropes down a steep stony road and are paraded around the shrine.  All the tension of the difficult procession is later relieved with lively performances of festival music.
For more things to see and do in Japan this spring, check out the Odigo trips page 
 

Diego Rojas