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From giant paper statues towering above the crowds and lanterns illuminating the night sky, to impressive fireworks displays and captivating dance performances, here are some of the most energising cultural festivals to put on your travel radar.


Nachi no Ogi Matsuri (July 14)

The annual grand festival of Kumano Nachi Taisha In Nachikatsuura, Wakayama Prefecture, takes place on this date every year.

Named the Nachi no Ogi Matsuri (Nachi Fire Festival), the festival is a sacred ritual where the deities return to Nachi Falls to revitalise their divine power.

The highlight takes place in front of Nachi Falls where the stone steps between the shrine and the waterfall become filled with men in white robes dancing and carrying 12 large flaming torches.

Each torch represents one of the 12 spirits living in the Kumano mountains and is said to weigh around 50kg.


Owari Tsushima Tenno Festival (July)

Typically held on the last weekend of July, the Owari Tsushima Tenno Festival has been taking place for around 600 years.

Aichi’s Tenno River is the focal point for the two-day festival which features musical performances and a procession of boats extravagantly decorated with tapestries that float down the river as bands play music from the decks (see main picture above).

At night, the boats become illuminated with hundreds of lanterns, making for a memorable spectacle of light reflecting from the water as fireworks light up the skies above.

The river banks are a popular place for visitors to enjoy the festivities and enjoy the many festival food offerings.


Aomori Nebuta Festival (August 2 – 7)

Taking place in Aomori City in the north-eastern Tohoku region, the Aomori Nebuta Festival attracts around 2.5 million people every year.

Highlights of the festival include the enormous 3-D nebuta (dramatic human-shaped floats made with papier mâché) that parade through the city, taiko drumming performances and the two-hour fireworks display on the last day to close the festival.

People are invited to participate in the festivities along with hundreds of dancers while wearing one of the haneto dancing costumes which can be bought or rented.


Akita Kanto Festival (August 3 – 6)

Believed to date back to the 17th century, the Akita Kanto Festival is held each year as a way to pray for a good harvest of the five grains: wheat, rice, beans, foxtail millet and Chinese millet.

The festival is especially known for its parade of 12-metre-high bamboo poles which are each decorated with as many as 46 lanterns illuminated by candlelight.

People dressed in traditional festival costumes take turns hoisting the poles into the air while parading through the town to the rhythm of flutes and drums.


Yosakoi Festival (August 9 – 12)

During the Yosakoi Festival (which has taken place for more than 60 years), Kochi City in Shikoku comes alive with more than 10,000 dancers who flood the streets with their naruko (wooden clappers) and energetic moves.

Beginning with a fireworks display, dancers are accompanied by spectacular floats that move through an infectious party atmosphere decorated with colour.

The end of the festival is marked with a dancing competition which sees one of the teams awarded as the year’s best group.


Awa Odori Festival (August 12 – 15)

With a 400-year history, the Awa Odori Festival is said to draw crowds of more than one million people in Shikoku’s Tokushima City.

The festival highlight is the Awa Odori dancing which takes place in the streets of Tokushima involving people of all ages wearing happi and yukata (traditional dress) while they dance.

Music with traditional local instruments including flutes and drums, acrobatic dance performances on one of the festival’s several stages and street food stalls along the banks of the city’s river are key attractions of the festival.