Yama, Hoko, Yatai, float festivals are included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. They are scattered all across Japan and each region and city has their own centuries-old, special traditions. These fantastic autumn events are held to honor the harvest season and welcome the gods to local shrines in celebration and prayer for a bountiful harvest.
Japanese Autumn Festivals in Tohoku
Being a northern region on Japan’s Honshu Island, autumn colors appear a bit earlier here than other places in the country. While on a journey to witness some of Japan’s most impressive fall foliage around stunning Tohoku destinations like Towada Hachimantai Nation Park, there are also many cultural autumn festivals to enjoy in the Tohoku region.
Witness Battling Floats at Akita’s Kakunodate Festival
Akita prefecture’s Kakunodate Festival traces back over 350 years and is one of the few festivals in Japan that features a Yama Gyoji. This dramatic tradition features floats called hikiyama that are carried through the town by dozens of adrenaline-filled festival participants. Upon encountering another hikiyama, the seven-ton floats smash into each other in a spectacular manner to determine which float has the right of way to continue its journey to the shrine.
Shrine: Shinmei-sha Shrine
Dates: Sep 7 – 9, 2022
Address: Kakunodatemachi, Semboku city, Akita Prefecture
Access: A 20-min walk from JR Kakunodate Station
Learn About Fukushima History at Autumn’s Aizu Festival
The Aizu Festival takes place in Fukushima, where history comes to life in an unforgettable way. If you’ve ever wished you were there to watch Japanese feudal lords battle it out, this unique festival offers a chance to see real-life samurai battle it out with imperial forces in a historically accurate reenactment of the Battle of Aizu, where these brave warriors gallantly fought to protect the beautiful Tsuruga-jo.
Dates: Sep 22 – 24, 2022
Address: Tsurugajo Castle, Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture
Access: 15 min bus ride from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station on the JR Banetsu West Line
URL: www.aizukanko.com/kk/festival/aizu-matsuri (Japanese)
Cheer On Endless Parades of Mikoshi at the Hanamaki Festival in Iwate
The Hanamaki Festival in Iwate Prefecture is one steeped in generations of wholehearted fun. One of its most popular parades is called the Hanamaki Mikoshi and holds the Guinness World Record for the number of portable Mikoshi shrines carried. This exciting parade offers a rare chance for everyone to be the hero, as visitors are encouraged to join in the fun and help carry a Mikoshi shrine through the crowds of festival-goers cheering you on!
Dates: Sep 9, Sep 11, 2022
Address: Hanamaki-shi, Iwate Prefecture
Access: Hanamaki Station on the JR Tohoku Line
Harvest Moon Yoita Jugoya Festival in Niigata, Japan
Niigata’s Yoita Jugoya Festival is a festival of the harvest moon that centers around the Tsuno Shrine, where the gods of Yoita are said to be enshrined. This exhilarating festival gets your heart pumping and makes you feel alive as the Yatai, or climbing floats, make their way toward the Tsuno Shrine to increasingly fast music and energy, with an undeniably warm and wholesome atmosphere throughout. Fresh food is abounded with delicious ones as food vendors prep up, filling the air with smell made by each’s own local cuisine take.
Shrine: Tsuno Shrine
Dates: Sep 16 – 18, 2022
Address: Yoitamachiyoita, Nagaoka-shi, Niigata Prefecture
Access: JR Nagaoka Station bound for Yoita and Kojimadani by bus
URL: niigata-kankou.or.jp/event/14466 (Japanese)
Japanese Autumn Festivals in Kanto:
Being the home of Tokyo, the Kanto region in Japan may not seem as exotic or naturally beautiful as others. However, beyond the skyscrapers, you’ll find gorgeous landscapes painted with autumn colors in Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, and even Tokyo. Cultural festivals during this season can be just as spectacular as the fall foliage.
Catch a Glimpse into the Edo Era at the Kawagoe Festival in Saitama
Kawagoe City in Saitama Prefecture is home to the famous Kawagoe Festival. Not much has changed since the Edo era, with the parade continuing its traditions down to the same traditional attire. The festival reaches its climax with the huge floats dueling in Hikkawase battles, where hayashi musicians and dancers perform, fueled by the encouragement of the energetic crowds. The excitement is contrasted by the dimly-lit paper lanterns holding the many prayers and wishes of the festival goers.
Shrine: Hikawa Shrine
Dates: Oct 15 – 16, 2022
Address: Kawagoe-shi, Saitama Prefecture
Access: 30 mins by Tobu Tojo Line from Ikebukuro Station to Kawagoe station or 45 mins by Seibu Shinjuku Line from Shinjuku station to Hon-Kawagoe station
Gather Luck at the Tori no Ichi Festival in Tokyo
With the rooster being a symbol of good luck and prosperity in Japan, the Tori No Ichi Festival in Tokyo gives an opportunity to purchase an assortment of charms and decorated ornaments to increase your chance of good fortune. This festival has either two or three days of festivities, depending on the year, with 2022 encompassing the full three days.
Shrine: Otori Shrine
Dates: Nov 4, Nov 16 and 28 2022
Address: Asakusa, Tokyo Prefecture
Access: About 7 minutes walk from Iriya station on the Hibiya Line
Japanese Autumn Festivals in Chubu:
In the center of Japan, the Chubu region is home to some of the country’s most dramatic landscapes, like the scenery found in the Japanese Alps. The natural beauty of Chubu region is undeniable. Equally as exciting is the local culture found throughout the area. Be sure to check out these autumn festivals if you happen to be in the Chubu region when fall comes along.
The Beautifully Illuminated Hida Takayama Festival in Gifu, Japan
Every fall, the Hachiman Matsuri makes its way down the streets of Hida Takayama in Gifu Prefecture. The mood is festive as men wearing traditional kamishimo samurai costumes make their way to the Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine while pulling the yatai floats to the beat and rhythm of ohayashi orchestras, garaku court music and shishimai lion dancers. The yatai feature wood and silk marionettes operated by strings within the floats. The event features thousands of lanterns at night, with around 100 on each of the 11 floats. This festival is often regarded as one of the most beautiful in Japan.
Shrine: Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine
Dates: Oct 9 – 10, 2022
Address: Sakura-machi, Takayama-shi, Gifu Prefecture
Access: 4 hours by Shinkansen via Toyama, 5.5 hours from Shinjuku Bus terminal
URL: www.hidatakayama.or.jp/hidatakayama/maturi_autumn/index.html (Japanese)
Explosive Autumn: Atami Marine Fireworks Festival in Shizuoka, Japan
There’s no better way to bid adieu to summer and give a warm welcome to autumn than to join a firework gathering. Atami City in Shizuoka Prefecture is home to the Atami Marine Fireworks Festival. The festival began as a celebration of the reconstruction of the city after the devastating Typhoon Kitty in 1949 and Atami Station Fire in 1950.
The city hosts more than 10 major firework displays throughout the year, with the ones in autumn being one of Atami’s biggest attractions. These locally crafted fireworks are beautifully reflected in the calm sea waters, earning them the nickname “Niagara Falls in the sky”. The sound of the fireworks over the unique topography creates a natural reverb that’s a treat for the ears as much as for the eyes.
Dates: Sep 19, Oct 15, Nov 5, 2022
Address: Shinsui Park, Nagisacho, Atami city, Shizuoka Prefecture
Access: 50-mins by Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines from Tokyo
URL: www.ataminews.gr.jp/event/8/ (Japanese)
Japanese Autumn Festivals in Kansai:
You may have seen the astonishing photos of Kyoto’s maple and sakura trees, heard of fascinating Japanese history and culture found in the Kansai region. Any time of year, there are certainly plenty of reasons to visit southern-central Kansai region of Japan containing charming prefectures like Nara, Wakayama, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo, Shiga, and Mie filled with unique Japanese traditions. However, if you have the chance to visit the Kansai region in autumn, it is well worth the trip!
Thrilling Danjiri Festival in Osaka
Kishiwada City in Osaka prefecture is home to the famous Danjiri Festival. An integral part of the local culture, Kishiwada’s citizens are taught the proper way to handle the enormous Danjiri floats as toddlers. The festival culminates in the Yarimawashi event, where up to a thousand feisty men pull the Danjiri float through sharp turns and corners at breakneck speed. This feat is especially impressive considering that this massive float weighs over four tons, making this spectacle an incredible sight to behold.
Dates: Sep 4, Sep 16 – 18, Oct 2, Oct 8 – 9, 2022
Address: Okita-machi Kishiwada-city, Osaka Prefecture
Access: 13-min walk from Kishiwada-eki Station, Nankai-Honsen line
Japanese Autumn Festivals Kyushu:
Autumn is worth the wait when it finally arrives in Japan’s southern Kyushu Island. If you happen to miss the peak season for autumn leaves in other areas around Japan, there will likely be plenty of scenic destinations filled with fall foliage in places like Mifuneyama Rakuen in Saga Prefecture, Mount Unzen in Nagasaki Prefecture, and the rugged mountains of Oita Prefecture. Of course, there are also many autumn festivals that come with the season.
Hakushu Festival and Parade over Water in Fukuoka Japan
In 2022, Fukuoka commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Hakushu-sai Festival, also known as the Hakushu Festival and Parade over Water. This festival takes place over Fukuoka’s picturesque Yanagawa river and is held in honor of the legendary poet Kitahara Hakushu, famous for his childrens’ songs. The highlight of this river festival is its Donko, or gondola boats that line the river in numbers around one hundred. The chartered Donko boats are lit up with red paper lanterns as they traverse the four-kilometer canal lined with beautiful bonfires to light the way.
Dates: Nov. 1 – 3, 2022
Address: Yanagawa City, Fukuoka Prefecture
Access: 10-min walk from Nishitetsu Yanagawa Station
URL: www.city.yanagawa.fukuoka.jp/kanko/meisho/meguru/hakyusyuusai.html (Japanese)