October means autumn, and in Japan, that means stunning autumn festivals—so wherever you are this month, be sure to check out all the top events near you!
Paantu Festival (Okinawa) | Early October
A bizarre and somewhat creepy festival in Okinawa, the Paantu festival is centered around mud. Villagers dress up as paantu—supernatural beings with long faces, using foliage and masks. They then parade through the town covering everything possible with mud, from cars to children—all to exorcise the evil spirits. Dates have been kept quiet following incidents in which tourists who didn’t appreciate the mud-slinging attacked the villagers in retaliation, so don’t go if you don’t want to get dirty.
Onomichi Lantern Festival (Hiroshima) – October 7th
A bright and beautiful local fetsival, you can enjoy the decorative lanterns which are rather more contemporary than found in most festivals. The town is World Heritage listed and is located on the Seto Inland Sea, also made famous by the Ozu film Tokyo Story.
Great Tug of War (Okinawa) – October 8th
For displays of brute strength, this is the festival to see. Held annually on the Sunday before National Sports Day, the events attracts thousands of participants and even more spectators. The challenge entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 1997 for being the largest event of its kind in the world, with each side using up to 15,000 participants. The rope is 200m long and weighs 40 metric tons, so all those people are definitely needed! Started from competition between the east and west side rulers of Naha, it now brings prosperity to the island. There is a grand parade from 12pm and the tug of war starts at 3pm.
Takayama Autumn Festival (Gifu) – October 9th – 10th
One of the most beautiful and elegant festivals in Japan, this is the counterpart to the spring festival and comes complete with stalls, food, music and parades. The large wheeled floats have marionettes which perform during the parades which take place both in the afternoon and evening.
Nada No Kenka Festival (Hyogo) – October 14th – 15th
A fighting festival held at Matsubara Hachiman Shrine, the Nada no Kenka sees groups of locals carrying large portable shrines (mikoshi) from seven different districts on the first day. On the following day, three teams of younger men carry three giant mikoshi and jostle them around the shrine from 9am, again at 1pm and later at 4.30pm.
Shuki Taisai Grand Autumn Festival (Tochigi) – October 16th – 17th
A samurai-themed festival in the surroundings of the Toshogu Shrine – the Shuki Taisai festival has a parade of over 1000 men in era-appropriate dress. They will be taking on the role of foot soldiers, cavalry and archers and marching as a commemoration of the funeral procession for the mighty Ieyasu Tokogawa, the first Tokugawa Shogun, to whom the Toshogu Shrine is dedicated. On the 16th the festival will start with yabusame (horseback archery) with the grande procession on the Sunday.
Goryo Jinja Autumn Festival (Osaka) – October 16th – 17th
A more relaxing festival for sure, here you can explore the shrine grounds when lit by decorative lanterns. There will be traditional entertainment including music and performances as well as food stalls to keep your hunger at bay. The first day is the Shogun celebration and the second is the Chende celebration. You can add your own lantern to the shrine grounds for 500 yen.
Fashion’s Night Out (Osaka) – October 18th – 19th
Vogue’s annual shopping and fashion extravaganza has a Kansai-version, and will be held at the Hankyu Umeda Honten and the Hankyu Men’s Osaka stores for two nights—while Tokyo only gets one! There are special guests, plenty of entertainment and, of course, lots of shopping to be done!
Jidai Matsuri (Kyoto) – October 22nd
The biggest historical parade in Kyoto, the Jidai Matsuri translates as the “Festival of the Ages” and commemorates the founding of the Kyoto as the Imperial Capital in 794. There will be over 2000 people forming a procession – all dressed in costumes from the ages departing from the imperial palace up to Heian Jingu Shrine. One of the highlights is the presence of Geisha dressed in the incredibly elegant junhitoe kimono.
Kurama no Hi Matsuri (Kyoto) – October 22nd
This festival is held in a small residential area with a community procession of burning torches to commemorate the day in 970 when the Yuki Myojin was moved from central Kyoto to Kurama. The matsuri starts at about 6pm in the evening, when big kagaribi bonfires are lit along the village streets.
Miyazaki Jingu Festival (Miyazaki) – October 28th – 29th
Held at a major shrine with over 140 years of history, this festival features a procession of the gods on both days from 1pm – 4pm. Many will be on horseback and all will be in traditional clothing. On the second day you can enjoy entertainment around the Jinmu-sama Square.