Japan in August
The end of summer can be a sad time, but not in Japan. Throughout the month of August, there are many different festivals, events, and ceremonies that make the end of summer just as exciting as the beginning. Here’s a rundown of all the can’t-miss yearly holidays hosted in Japan every August, as well as the best places to visit as you say goodbye to your favorite season.
August Japanese Holidays
AUG 1: PL ART OF FIREWORKS
As a religious event held by the Church of the Perfect Liberty in Osaka, there will be more than 120,000 fireworks making it one of the largest fireworks festivals in the world. You might think that religion in fireworks are an odd match, but actually, most fireworks displays are considered to be symbols of hope and contain elements of prayer in Japan.
AUG 1-3: NAGAOKA FESTIVAL
Parades with floats and people dressed in samurai armors as well as fireworks will be happening in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture. There will be food stalls featuring traditional Niigata cuisine such as Hegi soba and Sasa dango.
AUG 1-7: HIROSAKI NEPUTA MATSURI
The Hirosaki Neputa Matsuri festival is held in and organized by the people of Hirosaki. For one week each year, you can watch the giant parade floats take the streets of the city just after sunset, while listening to the thunderous sounds of the taiko drums as they ward off sleep demons that make people lazy in summer. The vibrations of the drums are so strong that they’re known to shake people to their core, but they also happen to be one of the most popular elements of the Neputa Matsuri. This festival occurs at the same time as Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, and is often overlooked.
AUG 2-7: AOMORI NEBUTA MATSURI *****
Another Tanabata-type festival in Japan, Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is held in towns all across the Aomori prefecture. From eye-catching lantern floats to the taiko drums and dancers, there’s so much to look forward to at Nebuta. Each of the two dozen floats featured in the parade are built over the span of a year by Aomori locals, and are constructed with just painted washi paper and a wire frame. Floats can span up to nearly 30 feet long, and typically depict either historical or mythical figures from Japanese and Chinese culture. The floats aren’t driven around, but rather are pushed down the streets by participants, and are accompanied by the vibrant sounds of flutes, cymbals, and taiko drums. The streets are also filled with hundreds of chanting dancers as they follow the procession of floats.
AUG 5-7: NIIGATA FESTIVAL
As the largest festival in Niigata Prefecture, the Niigata Festival takes place over the course of three days on the first weekend of August, though there’s a firework festival held nearly every week in the Niigata Prefecture during summer. The festival begins with a grandiose parade on Friday, and continues into the weekend with a series of other processions, including a good fortune parade and an on-water parade of a big Mikoshi. The weekend nights end with a spectacular fireworks show that encourages spectators to come dressed in Heian traditional clothes.
AUG 6: PEACE CEREMONY
A memorial ceremony held in Hiroshima in honor of the city’s devastating atomic bombing in 1945. The holiday began shortly after World War 2 when survivors sent paper lanterns down the Ota river in memory of their loved ones, and the Peace Ceremony is still celebrated that way to this day.
AUG. 6-8: SENDAI TANABATA MATSURI
This celebration is held every year in the Tohoku region. The festival is filled with colorful streamers and paper decorations, as well as tanzaku, or paper strips, that allow people to write down their wishes and tie them to bamboo trees. The Sendai Tanabata festival has been referred to as the “world’s most elegant festival of paper and bamboo.”
AUG 11: MOUNTAIN DAY (NATIONAL HOLIDAY)
A day off for people to enjoy and appreciate mountains and nature. The holiday isn’t just for residents of mountainous areas, though – Mountain Day is celebrated by citizens of all regions, including those living in the flat city centers to seek out the peaks of the country’s most picturesque mountain tops. The holiday, which has only been celebrated since 2016, encourages people to ponder the blessings that mountains have to offer, which is a belief held by Shinto, the most dominant religious practice in Japan.
AUG 12-15: AWA ODORI FESTIVAL
As part of the Obon festival, Awa Odori attracts over one million tourists every year, making it one of the most famous dance festivals in Japan. Each year, participants take to the streets to dance, sing, and chat along to the sounds of shamisen lutes, taiko drums, shinobue flutes and kane bells while performing a traditional style of folk dancing called Awa Odori. Attendees show up for the festivities sporting a yukata (light summer kimono) and a straw hat to match. The festival, which began over 400 years ago, is meant to celebrate the start of a new obon period, or when the departed souls of deceased loved ones make their return to our world, in mid-August.
AUG 13: YANAI GOLDFISH LANTERN FESTIVAL
Famous for its adorable goldfish-shaped lanterns, each year the city of Yanai celebrates the uniquely kawaii lanterns with the Yanai Goldfish Lantern festival. The lanterns, which were originally created by a merchant during the Edo period, are made with bamboo and washi paper, and are still a beloved part of the city’s history, and this festival proves it. Participants hang the lanterns all around the JR Yanai Station and the Shirakabe no Machi area, and gather to watch such events as the Goldfish Lantern Dance and Goldfish Nighttime Parade.
AUG. 13-16: OBON FESTIVAL
Obon is a special Buddhist event that commemorates the spirits of Japanese ancestors that have returned for a brief period of time to visit their loved ones during the period of Obon. At the beginning of Obon, lanterns are often hung outside of homes to help guide the spirits to Earth, and at the end of the celebration, floating lanterns are sent down lakes, rivers, and seas to guide the spirits back to their world, though Obon rituals tend to vary across regions. You can also expect to see traditional obon dances, called bon odori, performed in the streets, and a lot of food offerings left at house altars as well.
Best Regions to Visit During August
If you want to check out these festivals, make sure to stop by such areas as the Yamaguchi Prefecture, the Osaka Prefecture, and the Niigata Prefecture.
While these events are a guaranteed good time, you don’t need to visit a prefecture with a festival to enjoy the summer in Japan. There are plenty of other regions worth visiting in August, especially the ones located at higher altitudes. People tend to opt for these altitudes to beat the heat in the summer, and some of the best places to do that are Hokkaido, the Japan Alps in central Honshu, the Tottori Prefecture, and the Iya Valley in Shikoku.