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Top 10 Seasonal Spectacles in Japan

Sapporo Snow Festival & White Illuminations

Slip into a fascinating world of snow and ice stretching across approximately 1.5 km, with over 400 snow sculptures and giant slides. Visit multiple sites with a unique atmosphere at this major winter event. At the nearby Susukino entertainment district, ice sculptures and night-time illuminations are the main attractions. Explore the lengthy list of winter wonders: various-sized snow sculptures with projection mapping, warm up with hot drinks at Ice Bars and take lots of sparkling photos on Illumination Street.

Featured Tours: Journey to the East (February)

Takayama Festival

Twice a year an impressive parade winds through the preserved streets of Takayama, featuring elaborate 16th-century floats, which are UNESCO treasures. Mikoshi portable shrines are rolled out of a huge purpose-built warehouse, Takayama Yatai Kaikan (Festival Float Hall). They are ornate, embellished with gems, draped cloth, gold bars, and symbolic designs. The top is crowned with figures of the phoenix and demons. One shrine features a tortoise character, and another a marionette with 36 strings. The Karako moves like an acrobat, before landing on the god of good fortune, Hotei-sama, who then sprays confetti over the surprised crowd below.

Featured Tours: Japan Discovered, Traditional and Tropical (April and October)

Furano Bellybutton Festival

Amidst the pastoral charm of Furano, the Hokkai Heso Matsuri, or Bellybutton Festival, adds a whimsical touch to Hokkaido’s summer. Celebrated in July, this quirky festival sees the townsfolk take to the streets with elaborate, comical paintings on their bellies, transforming navels into the noses of playful characters. Laughter ripples through the air as the dancers shimmy and shake in the ‘bellybutton dance’, a lighthearted parade that embodies the jovial spirit of the region. As drums beat and crowds cheer, the Bellybutton Festival stands as a testament to Furano’s creative heartbeat. It’s a unique cultural escapade that promises mirth and memories – a delightful detour from the ordinary, beckoning travelers to indulge in the lighter side of tradition.

Featured Tours: Hokkaido Blooms

Hakone Pirate Cruise and Ropeway

Hakone is a well-loved post town where tired travellers have gone to reinvigorate in hot springs since Edo times. Make it up the mountainside to a sulphur-sprouting volcano, Owakudani. Eat black eggs that promise to elongate life by seven years. Step into a cable car to be carried over a valley in a ropeway that swings close to the elusive Mount Fuji. Walk a jetty to a pirate ship and sail away over Lake Ashi to the town. Look back at spectacular scenes, Fuji peaks over a blue lake and a nostalgic ship, like a scene from a storybook.

Featured Tours: Japan Discovered, Traditional and Tropical, and any day trip to Hakone from Tokyo

Sumo Grand Tournament

A sumo tournament takes spectators back to medieval Japan. Once a form of ritual, dedicated to the Gods with prayers for a bountiful harvest. There are three grand tournaments in Tokyo, each lasting for fifteen days. An intense experience and insight into Japan’s national sport. These lively events make for a great spectator experience that mixes ancient ceremonies with a heady atmosphere. Intense bouts bring large wrestlers into rings of rice, straw, and clay for a swift spectacle of determination and skill.

Featured Tours: Japan Discovered, Traditional and Tropical (May, July (Nagoya) and September), Wonders of the West (November), Shikoku Secrets (July)

Tokyo Sumo Tournament

Awa Odori Dance Festival

Experience remarkable traditions in remote Tokushima, formerly Awa Province, the biggest host for Obon in Japan, which occurs during August as the spirits of ancestors return for a short visit. Awa Odori is a humorous and fun competition between teams that began over 430 years ago. Each team has its own design of a summer kimono, a Yukata, and an iconic Ami Gasa straw hat. As they perform, male dancers move their arms around, while ladies keep their arms high and within shoulder width. Join in the traditional ‘Fools Dance’.

Featured Tours: Hidden Treasures (August)

Yosakoi Kochi Festival

Each year the city of Kochi becomes a hub of energy and color during the Yosakoi Festival, a celebration of the vibrant yosakoi dance tradition. This dynamic dance style features groups adorned in eye-catching costumes, moving rhythmically to a folk melody known as yosakoi-bushi. The festival is a major cultural event, drawing approximately 20,000 dancers from over 200 teams worldwide, showcasing the global appeal of yosakoi. Each team has diverse costumes and choreography, often accompanied by jikatasha, elaborately decorated music trucks. The city’s transformation into a lively, open-air stage with dance and music offers an unforgettable spectacle and energy.

Featured Tours: Shikoku Secrets (August)

Cormorant Fishing with Dinner

Near Gifu Castle and Nagarabashi Bridge, discover the wonder of Ukai fishing, a summer tradition upheld for over 1,300 years. Clever wild cormorants are skilfully trained by the Usho, the master fishermen, who send a dozen birds out from long wooden boats. Cormorants learn to catch Ayu sweetfish by diving underwater, collecting, and retrieving the fish. The beak marks on the catch are a sign of high quality. Sample this prized delicacy on a dinner cruise along the river.

Featured Tours: Ancient Trails (Summer only)

Tohoku Festivals

Tohoku’s festivals are a vivid showcase of Japanese culture. The Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival illuminates Hirosaki Park with thousands of blossoming trees, while the Floral Kakunodate and Tsuruga Castle festivals similarly celebrate sakura in historical settings. Summer in Tohoku is marked by the vibrant Nebuta Festival’s illuminated floats and the colorful Sendai Tanabata Festival, which is known for its elaborate star-themed decorations celebrating a traditional star festival. The Michinoku Yosakoi Festival adds energetic dance rhythms to the mix, making Tohoku a region rich in diverse and captivating celebrations.

Featured Tours: Tohoku Trails (July/August, October)

Sakura Festivals

In Japan, the ancient tradition of cherry blossom festivals, known as hanami, symbolizes the ephemeral beauty of life and the joyful arrival of spring. Dating back over a millennium, these festivals originally celebrated plum blossoms among aristocrats but have since evolved to honor the iconic sakura, attracting admirers worldwide. Across Japan, people engage in festive gatherings, picnics, and sake toasts under the blossoming sakura trees, reveling in the transient beauty of the delicate pink petals. The concept of ‘mono no aware,’ the poignant awareness of life’s transience, is deeply intertwined with the brief blooming period of the cherry blossoms. This cultural significance is echoed in various aspects of Japanese life, from art and folklore to religious beliefs in Shinto and Buddhism, where sakura are revered as symbols of life’s fleeting nature and spiritual renewal.

Featured Tours:  Japan Discovered (March), Ancient Trails (March), Hidden Treasures (March), Gardens and Galleries (April), Tohoku Trails (April), Hokkaido Blooms (May), Wonders of the West (March), Shikoku Secrets (March)