January gets a bad reputation for being the month of winter blues and post-Christmas lulls. But if these events are anything to go by, we’d have to disagree; who doesn’t like half-naked men, huge bonfires, and fireworks?

We have compiled a list of events all over Japan, so no matter where you are, you’ll have plenty to do. For events in Tokyo and the surrounding area, check out our listings on Tokyo Cheapo.

Kansai events

These are events in Kyoto, Osaka, Hyōgo, Mie, and the surrounding areas.

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Kobe Luminarie

Kobe Luminarie is an annual winter light-up held in memory of the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. Running for over 20 years now, Luminarie sees beautiful illuminations in the vicinity of Motomachi Station on the JR Kobe Line, starting at the Former Foreign Settlement and extending to Higashi Yuenchi Park and Meriken Park.

Shittenoji Doya Doya Festival

Celebrating the end of 14 days of worship after New Year’s, the Shittenoji Doya Doya Festival — also known as Osaka’s Naked Festival — sees dozens of loincloth-clad men and boys being doused in very cold water as they compete in teams for banknotes.

Kyoto Toka Ebisu Festival

This five-day celebration of the God of Prosperity involves plenty of lucky bamboo grass and charms which are bought in hopes of better luck for the coming year. At Ebisu Shrine in Gion, there are geisha handing out lucky grass, shrine maidens performing purifying rituals and plenty of food stalls and ceremonies to enjoy.

Wakakusa Yamayaki

One of the most impressive sights in Kansai, the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival sees an entire mountainside burned, along with bonfires and fireworks. Origins for the festival range from tricky land disputes to efforts at boar-removal and even ghost-frightening, but whatever the cause, the festival is a fantastic experience.

Kayabuki no Sato Snow Lantern Festival

Photo by KYOTO MIYAMA TOURISM ASSOCIATION

Miyama Village awes thousands of visitors every year with stunning scenes of snow-covered thatched roofs lit with hundreds of lanterns. You can expect snow lanterns, Japanese lanterns, flower lanterns, and LED lanterns, all lit at once to bathe the quiet town in a beautiful winter glow. 18 of the town’s thatched houses will also be illuminated, creating some extra beautiful scenes.

Oni Hashiri

oni hashiri japanese festival
Photo by Provided by the Gojo City Board of Education

What could be better than ogres with flaming torches? Head to Nara for an unusual festival that scares away evil spirits with drums, trumpets, and bells. The festival dates back over 500 years and is considered a national cultural event of historical importance. If the ogres successfully scare away the demons in time, it is said that there will be good fortune for the year.

Kanto events

These are events just outside of Tokyo, including Tochigi, Ibaraki, and the surrounding areas.

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Maebashi Hatsuichi Daruma Festival

The Maebashi Hatsuichi (meaning first market) Festival in Gunma is an explosive way to start the year. At 10 a.m. on the day of the festival, daruma dolls will be burned at Maebashi Hachimangu Shrine. There will be stalls, and events — such as a portable shrine possession — will take place on the closed National Route 50 outside the shrine.

Yunishigawa Onsen Kamakura Festival

A snowy wonderland appears each winter in this quiet hot-spring town as hundreds of small snow-houses are built. Illuminated on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings for the one-month duration of the event, the mini-kamakura (igloo) along the Sawaguchi Riverbed are a beautiful sight and are the highlight of the festival.

Ashikaga Flower Park Illuminations

The Ashikaga Flower Park Illumination event happens every year and is ranked as one of the best illuminations in Japan. For a country that prides itself on its winter illuminations, this is quite an accolade.

Hokkaidō events

These are events in Sapporo, Hakodate, and all the chilly areas on Japan’s northernmost island.

Sapporo White Illumination

This winter light-up takes place at five different locations, including Odori Park, Sapporo Eki-mae Dori, and Minami 1-Jo Dori. All locations switch on the lights on November 22, but while Odori Park and the Munich Christmas Market finish on Christmas Day, the Eki-mae Dori venue continues until February 12, and the remaining venues end on March 14.

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Tōhoku events

These are events in Fukushima, Sendai, and the surrounding areas.

Dontosai Festival

Osaki Hachimangu Shrine Dontosai Festival
Photo by Tohoku Tourism Promotion Organization

The Dontosai Festival is a fiery event in the heart of Miyagi. Festivalgoers burn their old New Year’s decorations in a large bonfire at Osaki Hachimangu Shrine in Sendai. After that, half-naked men brave the cold wearing, traditionally, nothing but loin cloths (but more likely shorts) and wraps. They join a procession known as the hadaka-mairi (naked pilgrimage).

Zaō Snow Monster Festival

With incredible views from the ropeway and plenty of skiing opportunities, you can get your monster fix pretty easily in Yamagata. Kicking off at the end of December, you’ll also be able to go on special night snowmobile tours to see the snow monsters of Zaō.

Chūbu (Nagano) events

Atami Plum Blossom Festival

Atami is known to have some of the earliest plum tree blossoms near Tokyo, and the Atami Plum Garden has 60 different varieties of plum trees — from the palest of pinks to the boldest blush — that bloom in succession.

Lake Kawaguchiko Winter Fireworks

Start the new year with a bang at the Lake Kawaguchiko Winter Fireworks. Using Mount Fuji as a backdrop, this colorful fireworks display should not be missed!

Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival

One of the three greatest fire festivals in Japan, the Nozawa Fire Festival takes place on the 15th of January every year. Men from the village who are aged either 25 or 42 have the responsibility of defending the tower erected in the center as villagers rush to burn it in the night. The younger men fight them at the base while the older men defend from the top. Eventually, the tower is burned and it is a truly spectacular sight.

Shirakawago Winter Light-Up

Shirakawago is a picturesque village in Gifu Prefecture. It is known for its traditional, triangle-shaped houses known as gasshō-zukuri. This light-up event sees the quaint village come alive with light in the evenings and is very popular, so much in fact that this year you will need reservations.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post first published in December 2017. Updated annually. Last updated in December 2023, by Alex Ziminski.

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