5 Most Popular Festivals to Check Out in the Kansai Region

ByJustin Hanus
Mar 23, 2018

5 Most Popular Festivals to Check Out in the Kansai Region

There’s always a famous festival in every country that draws pilgrims, tourists, the one-time visitors and even locals. There’s that exhilarating energy that wafts in the air when you hear the drums booming, the music blaring, the dancing, the merriment and all the energy that is ablaze every time there’s a feast.

Festivals are reminders that entertainment in communities is something that should be preserved so that their identity will survive. There are meat festivals, beer festivals, tomato festivals and hot air balloon festivals that are associated with the specialty dishes, drinks and industries that these places are known for. There are festivals with plays and dancing that pay tribute to literature and the arts. Celebrations like festivals are always fun and nostalgic enticing people from all walks of life to flock to these events.

A lot of festivals are religious in nature and in countries like Japan where religion is a stronghold, people flock to different cities to worship and pay homage to deities and sacred symbols. Celebrating their traditions every year helps their culture survive during this time when technological innovations are quickly absorbed by the new generations and influences them in their personal beliefs. Despite the signs of the times, it’s amazing that a lot of people still participate in the merriment and commemoration.

The Kansai region celebrates their festivals or Matsuris in certain months of the year and encourages locals and tourists to watch or even participate in the activities. These are some of the popular events that you can look forward to if you visit during the months that they celebrate them.

Minato Kobe Fireworks Festival

The reason why Kobe is said to be one of the 3 best night views in Japan is because every first Saturday of August, the sky bursts into a spectacular work of art as over 10,000 to 15,000 fireworks light up the sky and paint colorful tapestries on the water. You may view the event at Meriken Park or in the different hotels and spots around the bay. Although bad weather can postpone the event, this does not dampen the spirits of the locals and tourists who still show up to the new date and gather in crowds to watch the night sky burst into kaleidoscopic sparkling lights. It is a fireworks festival that commemorates the opening of the Kobe port, the fourth busiest port in Japan.

Tenjin Matsuri, Osaka

Ranked as one of Japan’s top 3 festivals, it begins on the 24th of July and ends on the 25th, the following day. It’s has been around for more than 1,000 years and is famous as the world’s greatest boat festival. Held every summer at the Osaka Tenmangu Shrine dedicated to the patron god of learning and art, Sugawara-no-Michizane who lived between 845 to 903 and became Tenman Tenjin, whose name the festival takes from. The 2 day event comprises of a land procession participated by around 3,000 people parading in imperial court style regalia from the 8th to 12th century and walking beside portable shrines. These participants board around 100 boats near the Tenmabashi bridge and sail onwards. The boats are illuminated with fires to light up the area and pavilions are set up where the spectators cheer at the fireworks show known as the Tenjin Matsuri Hono Hanabi fireworks.

Aoi Matsuri Festival, Kyoto

Also known as the “Hollyhock festival” and Kamo Festival, it takes place every 15th of May. According to the Nihon Shoki, it originated during the reign of Emperor Kinmei who lived between 539 to 571. It was an act to appease the Kamo deities as a series of disastrous calamities such as epidemics and heavy winds and rain destroying crops that plagued the country. The matsuri includes a procession and the rites in the shrines of Shimogamo and Kamigamo. Hollyhock leaves are used as adornments during the celebration thus the other name of the festival.

Gion Matsuri, Kyoto

Every July, Kyoto celebrates one of the most famous festivals in the country that is named after its Gion District. One of the highlights of the festival is the Yamaboko Junkō, a parade on the 17th and 24th. There’s food sold in night stalls along the streets like yakitori or barbeque chicken, takoyaki, okonomiyaki and a variety of Japanese sweet treats. Girls are dressed in yukatas with purses and paper fans to complete their ensemble just like those shown in anime and television series. The evenings leading up to the huge parade are called yoiyamas. Traditional houses in the merchant district open to the public and display their valuable antiques and furniture. If you’d love to experience traditions just like what you see on TV, visit Kyoto during this month.

Nada no Kenka Matsuri, Himeji

Here’s one popular festival that is a bit different from the usual religious and traditional parades that everyone is familiar of. It is the largest fighting festival in the country that is held in the Matsubara Hachiman Shrine in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture every 14th and 15th of October. It’s not just Japan that knows about it since it’s regularly shown on television every year worldwide. Others quote that it’s breathtakingly dangerous as the intensity of the portable shrines knocking each other out escalates. The heaves and grunts of the three groups of men wearing red, yellow and white headbands, the deafening cheer from the crowd and the energy from everyone make up a memorable festival experience. The Yatai-neri, the parade of the floats, highlights the event.

People have a way of celebrating just about anything. Prayers for a bountiful harvest or an opening of a port that means better access for trade and livelihood are just some of the reasons why festivals become a huge and sensational event. It also pays tribute to traditions, beliefs and the blessings the people receive. But the best part of it all, everyone gets to kick back, relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and amazing food.

By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Justin Hanus editor