Cherry blossoms, spring festivals and the promise of summer: April is one of the best times to be in Japan, and these events are the best way to enjoy it!
Inuyama Festival | April 7th – 8th | Aichi
This spring festival features impressive processions of 13 three-leveled dashi—the traditionally wheeled floats covered in lanterns. Dating back to 1635, it was recognized as an ‘Intangible Cultural Property’ in 2006 by the Japanese government. During of the festival there is a performance by the karakuri (traditional mechanized puppets) and during the evening they cover the floats with lanterns.
Kawanishi Genji Festival | April 8th | Hyogo
Celebrating the historical text Tale of Genji, this festival features a parade of traditional dress from the Heian period which is considered to be the height of Japanese culture. One person appears as Genji and rides a white horse, forming the highlight of the procession.
Tightrope Lion Dance | April 8th | Hyogo
One of the more unusual ways to spend a Sunday, you can watch as locals balance their way across a 10m valley while wearing a heavy headdress. The event takes place in the Isenori Shrine grounds during cherry blossom season and it is truly beautiful, definitely well worth the slightly tricky travel arrangements.
Osaka Mint Bureau Cherry Blossom Viewing | April 11th – 17th | Osaka
Only open to the public for a few days each year, the Osaka Mint has an amazing variety of trees which are illuminated in the evening. They have a lot of yaezakura (later-blooming flowers with more petals), so it’s great if you are a tad late for the regular blooming period. The area is a 15-minute walk from Temmabashi Station.
Hikiyama Festival | April 13th – 16th | Shiga
This festival is well known for its performances of children’s kabuki theater, called kodomo kabuki. The floats wheeled through town have stages built into them and the young children perform as they move through the streets. The festival takes place in Nagahama, Shiga.
Takayama Spring Festival | April 14th – 15th | Gifu
One of the area’s two biggest festivals (the other is in autumn), this event takes place against the stunning backdrop of Hida Takayama. It features processions of large floats, mikoshi, and marionette performances and plenty of impressive costumes and displays and is one of the best opportunities to see a large scale festival this early in the year.
Okinawa International Film Festival | April 19th – 22nd | Okinawa
A great opportunity to see a real mixture of performances, from movies to trade shows, music shows and the red carpet walk along kokusai-dori. Nicknamed the Comedy Cannes it was started in 2009 by comedy giant Yoshimoto Kogyo around a theme of “laugh and peace”. There are workshops, documentaries and showcases for young directors, so it’s a good chance to get your film-cravings fixed for a while.
Nagasaki Tall Ship Festival | April 19th – 23rd | Nagasaki
A must see for anyone with a love of boats, this event features some of the best examples of ships from the past, with different boats rigged with flags and decorations. The harbor of Nagasaki is a stunning setting for the event, which will include a range of activities like short cruises, evening illuminations and markets and firework displays.
Sake Spring Kyoto | April 28th – 29th | Kyoto
This is the perfect opportunity to try over 150 different varieties of nihonshu from 50 different brewers who travel from across Japan to attend. If you get your tickets in advance they cost only ¥3,500 and allow you to try all the sake you can handle, with a cheaper ticket available for entry after 3pm. There are movies, music and food to go with the drinks, so you can make an afternoon of it!
Kemari Festival | April 29th | Nara
Celebrating a traditional ball game, this festival sees local priests enter the shrine and perform a beautiful procession and rituals. The game was played by the royal family and is similar to football in that it has a leather ball which must be kept in the air using player’s feet, but it originated in China. Visitors can explore the shrine gardens and play kemari themselves at the event!
Yuasa Andon Paper Lamp Stand Exhibition | April 29th – May 3rd | Wakayama
Over 500 handmade lanterns will line the streets of Yuasa made by children and artists from across Japan. The preserved samurai-style streets of the town take you back in time, and there is a photography competition if you feel like taking your best snapshots. Each lantern is unique and it can be fascinating to see the variations in style and design as you stroll through the area.