Japan Bucket List By Season/Festival (2021-2023)

*Temporary Update April – September 2021: Japan experiencing covid spike and cancelling many events. We are in the 5th State of Emergency (which isn’t always what you think) and it’s been extended to September 12th 2021.

Japan is so seasonal, with many season-themed festivals and holidays. (There’s a festival every weekend somewhere in Japan, literally, but I’ll try to at least hit my top 10!). It’s hot AF in summer and we don’t want to be outside, so all the outdoor stuff has to be packed into the other months. Below is our local seasonal bucket list! It doesn’t include everything; just the things we thought looked interesting, and I’ll be happy to get to 50% of it. We’re trying to emphasize seeing local things before travel opens again because we will definitely be touring Asia.

Summer: Festivals, Canyoning, and Fuji

  • June-August – Yokohama street dances resume on weekends (though for the life of me I cannot find the times) after Covid delays at Grand Mall Park (prev at Yamashita Park) http://daidogei.jp/.
  • Mid July – the Bon Dance Festival in faraway Tokushima, called Awa Odori, (though it is celebrated at different times throughout Japan. Gifu’s is famous for all night dancing). Huge dance competition festival with unique costumes, and tourists are invited to join in. There is a smaller version in Koenji, Tokyo, possibly postponed to August! (nope, it was cancelled. SIGH.)
  • July (postponed to Oct 23 2021 due to covid): Sumida fireworks festival, Tokyo, usually held on last Saturday of the month. Guide to finding a spot and surviving the crowd.
  • July (cancelled 2021 but may take place in October for the Autumn iteration): Sawara Matsuri, a big float festival with giant parade dolls through a canal city. One of Kanto’s three major float festivals. Sawara area, Katori City, 15 min walk from Sawara station (2-3 hours from YAB).
  • 19 August: Climb Mt. Fuji! We did it!
  • 1-8 August Aomori Nebuta Matsuri (cancelled 2021) – one of Japans 3 largest hand made paper float festivals + fireworks. This might be a good stop on the way to a hokkaido summer trip. visitors can rent costumes and join in!
  • Late August – possibly the famous Awa Odori, 10,000 person dance festival in Koenji, Tokyo (see above in mid July).
  • 26-27 August (cancelled 2020, scaled down w masks for 2021): Fuji Fire Festival aka Yoshida Fire Festival to calm the mountain gods, marking the end of climbing season.
  • Hachioji Festival (cancelled 2021)

Ideas for any free weekend when it’s not oppressively hot:
Takao Beer Garden: $35 for a 2 hour all-you-can-eat buffet and all-you-can-drink beer/wine/cocktail list on Mt. Takao with a nice view. Usually July-Oct but as of late June, dates were unsure due to covid.
– Canyoneering: main companies are Canyons! and Big Wave, sometimes organized by Outdoor Rec.

Fall: Sumo, Fall Leaves, Snow Monkeys

  • Late August – Early Autumn – bear watching in Shiretoko? I kayaked with grizzlies in Canada and would love to show the same experience to Keith; it’s breathtaking. Japan has a salmon run, so of course that means they also have a bear watching season, although I couldn’t find much online. There are some boat cruises along the coast of bear country in Shiretoko, but I think kayaking would be more fun. (This one claims 90% bear sighting). This blog details fishing on the coast during salmon season (bring your own gear, lodging recommendation, and get a guide). This blog posts about free spots to fish on the banks, and a nearby natural hot spring. Could combine with a star gazing tour as well?
  • 14-16 September: Horseback archery festival in its birthplace, Kamakura, at the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in case you missed it in April.
  • mid september: The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri in Osaka, considered Osaka’s wildest party with massive wooden parade floats.
  • 22-23 September: A festival recreating a war march of 700 warriors called Aizu Byakko Matsuri takes place in Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukusima (about 4 hrs away from Yokota).
  • Late September: Tokyo Prison festival, where you can eat Prison Curry and Prison bread made by Tokyo inmates. Weird, right?
  • 23(ish) September : Sendai Great Tug of War on the eve of the autumna equinox. This is a 3,000 man tug of war game. It’s far though, way down in Kagoshima, should be combined in a trip.
  • 30 September – October1: Kokkietsu festival in Chinatown, Yokohama, celebrating Chinese National Foundation day with lion dances, parades, firecrackers, and cake. Great if you missed your chance at the Chinese New Year Festival.
  • October 1st – Odaiba October Fest
  • 16-17 October – Another 1000 man samurai procession and horseback archery festival in Nikko to the Toshugu Shrine (UNESCO site) in case you missed the Spring version!
  • 22-24 October: Shingenko Matsuri War March (this April festival was postponed to Oct in 2021): Shingenko Matsuri, a festival with an army parade of 1500+ men in war costume in Kofu, Yamanashi prefecture (about 1.5-2 hours from Yokota).
  • mid-late October?: the Kawagoe/Saitama Festival
  • Mid October (if you didn’t catch it in July) – Sawara Matsuri, a big float festival with giant parade dolls through a canal city. One of Kanto’s three major float festivals. Sawara area, Katori City, 15 min walk from Sawara station (2-3 hours from YAB).
  • Grand Sumo in Tokyo. Sumo season is Jan-Nov with a tournament every two months, but Fall seems like a great time to go. Purchase tickets online at Ticket Oosumo or GoGo Sumo. Note that the “box seat” that is closest to the Arena is a thin cushion on the floor, not a chair!
  • Snow Monkey trip with ITT – done! Fall foliage was beautiful, all the monkeys were down by the onsen even though it wasn’t winter yet, and the walk was easy with no snow. Also got to go apple picking nearby. Snow is probably a prettier backdrop for the monkey area specifically, but I’m happy we chose to go in fall.

Winter:

  • 1-3 January – Daruma Festivals Everywhere! Looking forward to going to Kawagoe’s next year.
  • 1 Jan – 28 Feb Kotatsu Boat Ride and Otaki Icicles/Ice festival or Onouchi Icicles or Ashigakubo Icicles in Saitama. Boat ride is $10 per person.
  • Jan – early Feb: Ice Fishing (aka Wagasaki! Available in multiple places, but I’m considering combining with an igloo dinner experience, fireworks, and snow shoeing in Iiyama (which also has a winter fire dance), or in Hokkaido at Lake Shikaribetsu Kotan, or Lake Nogiri (which also has drinks in glasses made of ice, the only open-air bath on a frozen lake, and music). Order of events is usually ice fishing early in the am, then snow showing or XC skiing, then igloo. Possible to align this with the Sapporo ice festival in Feb as well.
  • Jan-Feb (cancelled 2021?!): Sapporo Snow Festival
  • 6 Jan (cancelled 2021): Acrobatic Bamboo Ladder festivals (usually performed by the local fire dept): @ Shibamata Taishakuten (Hashigonori), @ Tokyo Big Site (Dezomeshiki) w limited attendance, and @ Hashigonori Asakusa Sensoji Temple (same group as Dezomeshiki, but their afternoon performance).
  • 10 Jan: Midwinter Ice Bathing (Kanchu Suiyoku), number of visitors limited, @ Teppozu Inari Shrine in Chuo-Ku.
  • 15 January: (Cancelled 2021) Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival, one of top 3 in Japan.
  • 16 Jan (Cancelled 2021): Midwinter Purification Rite (Kanchu Misogi) at Kanda Myojin Shrine, Chiyoda-ku. Ice bath time.
  • 28 Jan: Daruma fair at Tahakata Fudo Temple in Hino from sunrise to sunset, + a children’s parade at 1:30pm (though there are smaller daruma fairs in Fussa, Ome, etc throughout January also).
  • Feb – March – Ice Scuba in Hokkaido/Sapporo area. Must be certified and own equipment looks like :/
  • 2 Feb: Daruma Burning at Nishi Arai Daishi (Setsubun on the same day!)
  • 2 Feb: Setsubun change of season bean-throwing festival at Nishi Arai Daishi temple (also held basically everywhere else, including the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa Taito-ku, the Zojoji Temple in Minato-ku, the Naritasaan Shinshoji in Chiba, Kameido Tenjin Shrine in Koto-ku, and Taishakuten temple om Katsushika-ku, and Hosenji temple.

No specific date, for any free weekend in winter:

  • Winter Illumination, maybe at Ashigaki flower park or Yomiuri Land’s Jewellumination Oct-April (12 acres; largest scale illumination in the Kanto region).
  • Ski Trip – done! See the whole trip here.

Spring: Spring Festivals, Flowers, and Beaches.

  • 3 Feb (cancelled 2021) Setsubun Festival at many locations, including aihigan-ji Temple in Akiruno, lots of bean throwing.
  • 8 Feb (cancelled 2021): Plum blossom festival, aka Ume Matsuri, full day.
  • 15 Feb: Another ice bath festival, if you missed the ones in Jan: Suigyo Kokuto-e in Sumida.
  • late Jan-early Feb (cancelled in 2021): Shunsetsu (Chinese New Year) On the first new moon, a Lion dance parade in Yokohama’s China Town.
  • 20 Feb (3rd Saturday) (downsized in 2021): The naked stick fighting festival! (Hadaka Matsuri). Located in Okayama, it’s far so it should be a weekend trip.
  • 1 – 12 March (cancelled in 2021): Omizutori Festival in Nara to welcome Spring.
  • 3-4 March: Daruma sales (Done! But I’ll be going again every year. Click here to find out what Darumas are!) A big one is held at Jindaiji Temple (40 min away), though you will see Darumas for sale everywhere around New Year’s, even in Seiyu and Fussa’s local Enpukuji temple.

14 March (2nd Sunday): Takao fire festival (Hiwatari-sai matsuri) at 1pm. We did it! It was awesome! Video is on the way! (If you miss it, there are lots of other fire walking festivals, like the one at Shiofune Temple on 3 May).

  • 20 March (Cancelled 2021): Children’s Kabuki play at Asakusa shrine, Tokyo
  • 30 March-Apr (cancelled in 2021): Fussa Cherry Blossom Festival. Parking: 35.719771, 139.331241. Acceptable to bring alcohol to parks in Japan. There are also some street dances and other events, this is last year’s list.
  • Late March-October: Baseball games, most weekdays except Monday, and stadiums are close by (Giants’ in Tokyo, Lions’ in Saitama, etc). Tickets range about $15-$60.
  • Weekends April-May – Mt Takao Wakaba New Leaves Festival
  • April 17-June 20th and June 26th-Aug 29 Umbrella Sky Installation in nearby Saitama. @ Metsa Village Entrance Road and along the lake till 9pm (and they are lit up at night). Free to view, but parking is paid and entrance to the Moomin Valley Park area is paid. Drive, or bus from the train station (35 min walk).
  • 4 April (partially cancelled in 2021): Inuyama Festival in Aichi at the Haratsura shrine. UNESCO cultural list, giant illuminated floats. (4 hours away – make it an overnight trip).
  • 5 April (1st Sunday)(Partially cancelled in 2021): PENIS FESTIVAL (Kanamara Matsuri) in Kawasaki 1.5 hours away. Begins at 10am, parade at noon. This festival actually began with STD health in mind, but has since turned in to more of a party.
  • 11 April (cancelled or without audience in 2021): Kamakura Festival: love stories, archery, dancing, and more. (There is another horseback archery festival in September if you miss it!)
  • 11 April: (April dance cancelled for 2021). White Heron Dance. This Shinto ritual called Shirasagi-no-Mai takes place at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, 11am-3pm. Procession starts at the Depoin temple, short dance is performed in front of Sensoji main hall at 11:30. (also in May and Nov, different locations)
  • 11 April (no spectators in 2021): Tokyo University Rowing Races (So Kei Regatta) 3 kilo race at the Ryogoku bridge.
  • 9-11 April (postponed to 22-24 October 2021): Shingenko Matsuri, a festival with an army parade of 1500+ men in war costume in Kofu, Yamanashi prefecture (about 1.5-2 hours from Yokota).
  • 17 & 20 April (cancelled 2021): Horseback archery, aka Yabusame. At Asakusa and Sumida Park in Tokyo. About an hour away from Yokota, need tickets in advance for some locations. See it on youtube.
  • Mid-April to Early May is Wisteria season, and Ashikaga Flower Park (1-1.5 hrs away) has a popular arrangement (although there are many others all over Japan). (Done! See the details here).
Coco’s Winery + Ashikaga Flower Park – a wisteria-filled day trip
  • Mid-April to Mid-May is Azalea season: viewing spots include Shiofune Temple’s azalea festival (with its interesting mermaid legend!), Ashikaga flower park, Showa Park, and more. To combine events, you could hit the Shiofune Fire Walking Festival (no spectators 2021), Azalea Festival, AND Ome Grand festival in one day (Partially cancelled 2021). That’s our plan for 2022 since 2021 was scaled back.
  • 29 April: Kobudo martial arts: katori shrine of kameido, right by the kameido tenjin shrine (visit both at the same time). 10:30am-2:30pm.
  • 29 April (cancelled 2021) Firemen’s annual memorial service: another firefighter acrobatic festival in honor of lost firefighters @ yutenji temple in meguro-ku
  • 29 April (cancelled 2021): Black lion dance (Yokonakaba Shishimai) at Choenji Temple in Musashi Murayama (close to home!), starts at 9am.
  • 2-3 May (cancelled 2021): Grand Festival in Ome, Ome’s biggest annual festival. 12 parade floats that go down the main road with intricate characters.
  • 3 May: Another Fire Walking Festival! (Held in 2021 but the public could not walk the coals). This one is at Shiofune temple. It may be called Hiwatari aragyogenshu. It generally starts in the morning around 11am and is not advertised much in advanced.
  • 3-5 May: Giant Kite Festival in Showa, Saitama (also one on the same day in Sagami, Kanagawa).
  • 4-6 May (partially cancelled 2021): Fuchu Darkness Festival in Tokyo, considered one of the 3 biggest Kanto festivals, held at night. Lasts 1 week but May 5th is the day with the biggest events.
  • Early May: Fuji Shibazakura Festival (more flowers and views).
  • 13 May: Hino Samurai Festival (Shinsengumi)
  • 16-18 May: the Tosho-gu Grand Festival in Nikko, Tochigi Prefecture. Nikko’s most important annual festival with horseback archery and a 1,000 man costumed re-enactment.
  • 21-23 May (Cancelled 2021 – we went to check in person): Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa, Tokyo; one of the largest mikoshi parades where you may see Yakuza.

No specific date; for any free weekend in Spring:

  • Kawaguchiko and Fuji Five Lakes region. Definitely combine with Shiraito falls, it is so worth it! Check the facebook page (above) for deets till we give it a proper blog post!
  • Limestone caves. There is a riverside restaurant you can also fish for trout at. Easy day trip.
  • Tama river path
  • Yamanakako Hananomiyako Kouen – a large field of flowers blooming spring-fall (Mar-Oct), looks like it has a view of Mt. Fuji, 1.5 hrs away.
  • Sayama Park, Lake Saitama. Parking lot: 35.75963, 139.43951. Can also park at Noyamakita Park and walk back to the trails from there. Good for pics of Mt. Fuji, walking, quiet afternoon/day trip type activity. On the way is this interesting looking temple with the dragon stairs and a baseball stadium nearby. (Done! check out the pics below!)