May is certainly busy in Japan, with a whole flurry of festivals just in the first week!

Wherever you are, you’ll find something to see — be it a samurai procession, a boat race, or even a kite-flying competition. Take your pick from the amazing events filling the calendar, and be sure to keep an eye out for any new additions.

For events in Tokyo and the surrounding area, please visit our listings on Tokyo Cheapo.

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Kansai events

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

Osaka Nemophila Festival

Feast your eyes on more than one million nemophila flowers, also known as baby blue eyes, at Osaka Maishima Seaside Park. Apart from the flowers, there will be a wide choice of local and seasonal products to buy, including nemophila honey and ice cream in a well-suited color. Get tickets here.

Osaka Comic Con

The enormously popular Tokyo Comic Con has now sprouted a version for all the comic and celebrity fans of West Japan. While Japan has manga and anime festivals, the emphasis is on the authors and artists. The Western-style Comic Cons have a bigger emphasis on movie stars and of course Western franchises — like Star Wars and the Marvel Universe.

Aoi Matsuri

Photo by EvergreenPlanet/iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

One of the three most significant festivals in Kyoto, the Aoi Matsuri features a procession from the Imperial Palace and through the streets to the Kamo shrines. Over 500 participants dress in traditional clothing and hollyhock leaves and make their way through the city, including an unmarried woman chosen to represent Saio (who, as the youngest female of the Imperial family, was the high priestess of the Kamo shrines).

Kamogawa Odori

Your final chance to see one of the city’s annual geisha performances, this show features geiko and maiko from the Pontocho area of Kyoto. It takes place in a small theater built specifically for this event, which is said to make it one of the most intimate of the shows. You can choose tickets with or without a maiko tea ceremony included.

Heijokyo Tempyo Sai Festival

With a history dating back 1,300 years, this festival celebrates the days when Nara was the capital of Japan. There are re-enactments of parades and children’s workshops — making it a great family event.

Kyotographie International Photography Festival

Kyoto and photography merge to create Kyotographie, one of Japan’s largest international photo festivals. Kyotographie has been held in Kyoto since 2013, and is a photography festival that harmonizes with the city.

Kanto events

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

Togyo 1,000 Samurai Procession

Photo by Nikko City Tourism Association

For samurai lovers, there’s only one place for you to be this month, and that’s Tochigi. Featuring 1,200 participants all dressed in full samurai costume, the procession takes place on the second day of the Nikko Toshogu Shrine Grand Festival. They escort mikoshi to a hall in the shrine grounds, and will give you an idea of what the shogun’s army may have looked like.

Ashikaga Great Wisteria Festival

Ashikaga Flower Park’s annual Great Wisteria Festival is the place to see pretty purple wisteria — fuji-no-hana in Japanese — in all its glory. And also to see less common varieties in pink, white, and yellow. Basically it’s a really big park with A LOT of wisteria! Get tickets here.

Tōhoku events

These are events in Aomori, Miyagi, and the surrounding areas.

Sakata Festival

Held every year since 1609, this three-day festival features some equally impressive and terrifying floats, known especially for the giant lion heads. There will be 350 stalls selling festival favorites, and you’ll be able to enjoy a local festival that doesn’t get as many visitors as the bigger ones in Japan.

Sendai Aoba Festival

Photo by Sendai Aoba Festival Association

First held in 1655, the Sendai Aoba Festival takes place at the beginning of the warm season, in early May. On Saturday night, you’ll get to see suzume odori, the sparrow dance, performed by thousands of dancers. On Sunday, many mikoshi shrines and large yamaboko floats are paraded down the city streets. Food, crafts and various stalls will also be available.

Hiroshima events

These are events in Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, and the surrounding areas.

Shinkawa Market Festival

One of the highlights of this local festival is the fox wedding parade. Watch as a traditionally dressed bride and groom have their faces painted like foxes and are paraded through the town on rickshaws.

Chūbu events

These are events in Nagano, Aichi, Fukui, Shizuoka, Yamanashi and surrounding areas.

Hamamatsu Festival

Photo by Hamamatsu/Lake Hamana Tourism Bureau

A festival split in two, this event features some traditional elements alongside kite-flying. On all three days, in the early evening, a procession takes place near Hamamatsu Station with floats resembling temples and carrying musicians close to Hamamatsu Station. There will be buses running to the kite-flying site from there.

Fuji Shibazakura

Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Photo by iStock.com/jiratto

This is a great time to see Fuji and enjoy the local delicacies. The shibazakura festival offers carpets of stunningly bright flowers leading up to the mountain slopes. The moss phlox is known as the lawn cherry and is pretty impressive, with or without Fuji in the background.

Kyūshū & Okinawa events

Hakata Dontaku Festival

This is thought to be the largest of the Golden Week festivals in Japan, drawing crowds from across the country. Famed for the extravagant costumes worn by the competing teams, the festival dates back to 1179 and was originally a celebration of the Chinese New Year. It was eventually banned for its perceived extravagance, but returned as the Dontaku Festival not long after.

Naha Hari Dragon Boat Races

Photo by Naha Navi

Every May during Japan’s Golden Week, the Naha Hari transforms the Nahashin Port into a battle zone, as dragon boat teams compete in high-energy races. One of Okinawa’s biggest annual events, the Hari festival runs over three days, and attracts more than 150,000 spectators. This is a wonderful time to visit the wharf to watch the races and enjoy the carnival atmosphere, with music, drumming, traditional dancing and live entertainment.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post first published in May, 2016. Last updated in Apri, 2024, by Alex Ziminski.

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