Going to a festival is always a fun occasion but going to a Japanese festival is a whole different experience. Japanese festivals, or “matsuri”, were originally held to pray to various deities for good harvest. Especially the summer in Japan is an exciting season if you like festivities and good food. There are many kinds of festivals and every region has their own local rituals but a matsuri can be expected to have one of three styles as stated below. This article will explain the three main styles to be experienced at a Japanese festival and will recommend the best festivals to be seen in Nagano.
Street stalls for food and drinks
There are many street food/drink vendors to be found at the festival. Japanese-style foods like Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba, Yakitori, etc. are available but also Western sweets like crepes or chocolate-covered bananas are on offer for relatively cheap prices ranging from 300 to 600 yen on average. Besides food, one can enjoy oneself by participating in games like gold-fish scooping, super-ball scooping, gun shooting, ring-throwing, balloon Yo-Yo fishing, etc. These game stands are commonly seen at all types of summer festivals in Japan.
Fireworks shows in Japan are certain to be a very memorable experience! The Japanese fireworks shows are quite different compared to shows seen in other parts of the world in the sense that a great variety of styles and shapes are showcased, often accompanied by music. The fireworks types include, 1) Syaku dama (meaning “big shot”) – a single, enormous firework shot often launched at the end of the show, 2) Starmine – many small fireworks launched simultaneously make it look like shooting stars, 3) Niagara – a long, horizontal wire is put on fire and sparkles go down, making it look like Niagara Falls, 4) underwater fireworks which explodes on water surface and make a big, semicircle fire-flower. Japanese fireworks are often hand-made by experts called “Shokunin” (meaning craftsman). Below you can see the recommended fireworks festivals to check out while in Nagano (some of them are held in Autumn):
- Rokaku-Lake Fireworks and Lantern Float Festival
- Iizuna Fire Festival
- Kawanakashima Battlefield Fireworks Festival
- Ebisu-ko Fireworks Festival
Bon-Odori (盆踊り, meaning Bon dance) is the mid-August festival where the souls of ancestors are believed to come back to earth to visit their household altar. The Bon dance is performed in order to welcome and calm the souls of the ancestors. Every region has their own dancing style but most commonly people line up in a circle and dance around a lantern tower. The dance uses mostly the upper body and is often accompanied sound of Japanese drum. It is a popular custom to wear a yukata (light cotton kimonos), but wearing regular clothes is definitely not frowned upon. Do not hesitate to join the dancing circle. Anyone is welcome to participate. If you are reluctant to perform the dance, just observing the people dance is entertaining enough.
You can observe or join in on the Bon festivities at the festival below:
Have a great summer in Japan!