Japan is a country that loves celebrations and in the course of one year in Japan, there are certainly no shortage of events and festivals. There are some events that are more popular and famous than others though, so read on to see which ones you shouldn’t miss out on.

January

Hatsumode – the first visit to a temple or shrine for the new year. This is a huge event for Japanese people and there are often massive lines for major temples and shinto shrines.

Fukubukuro – retailers sell mystery “lucky” bags of discounted and unknown products at the start of the new year.

Coming of Age Day (成人式, Seijin shiki) – a national holiday where youth celebrate officially becoming adults at the age of 20.

Shirakawago light-up event – the old farmhouses of this famous UNESCO world heritage site are illuminated for a short time over winter.

Plum blossoms

February

Snow festival in Sapporo – Japan’s most famous snow festival takes place every year and features large ice sculptures and performances.

Setsubun – this festival features bean-throwing to scare away evil and to welcome in spring. People normally throw dried soy beans at others wearing demon masks and it is also tradition to eat the same number of beans as your age.

Plum festivals (梅祭, ume matsuri) – plum blossoms are associated with the start of spring as they are among the first flowers to bloom. Similar to cherry blossom season, there are also plum blossom festivals held across Japan.

Chinese New Year – there is a large Chinese population in Japan, so it is only fitting that there be festive celebrations to bring in the new year in Japan’s largest Chinatown, located in Yokohama.

March

Hinamatsuri – also called the Doll Festival, this day celebrates the health and happiness of female children (March 3). Often involves families displaying ceramic dolls dressed in ornate dresses. 

Anime Japan in Tokyo – the main anime industry event and one of the largest anime events in the world.

Sakura – cherry blossoms are a huge part of Japan’s identity and are synonymous with spring. Every year crowds of people celebrate the season with cherry blossom viewing parties and spring-themed food and drink.

Sumo tournament in Osaka – six sumo tournaments are held each year in Japan and the Osaka one begins in March and lasts for 15 days.

White Day – the Japan way of celebrating Valentine’s Day is for women to gift to men on February 14 and for men to return the gesture by gifting to women on White Day (March 14).

Fuji Shibazakura

April

Fuji Shibazakura – each year hundreds of thousands of pink moss bloom near the base of Mt Fuji. A highly popular spring event that draws large crowds.

Beppu onsen matsuri in Kyushu – Beppu has a large number of onsen resources so each year the local community and government put on a festival to give thanks to these resources.

Kamakura matsuri – a week-long festival to welcome in spring, featuring horseback archery, tea ceremonies and performances.

Strawberry picking (イチゴ狩り, ichigo-gari) – spring is one of the best times for strawberry lovers as it’s when you’re able to visit strawberry farms and pick and eat strawberries to your heart’s content.

Koi no bori carps in Japan

May

Children’s Day (子供の日, Kodomo no hi) + Golden week – Golden Week is one of Japan’s busiest holiday seasons due to there being four public holidays within one week. Children’s Day is the final holiday of that week and is a day to celebrate the health and happiness of children.

Ashikaga Flower park – the top place to go to see wisteria flowers. The park is also popular in winter due to its illuminations.

Hakata Dontaku festival in Fukuoka  – the largest festival during Golden Week featuring extravagant costumes, dancing and floats.

Lilac festival in Sapporo (札幌ライラック祭) – held in Odori Park, where there are about 400 lilac trees, this festival celebrates the coming of spring in the north of Japan.

June

Sanno matsuri in Tokyo – one of the three most famous festivals in Tokyo, taking place on even-numbered years. It features a large parade where portable shrines are carried through central Tokyo.

Hydrangeas festival (紫陽花祭, ajisai matsuri) – hydrangeas bloom during Japan’s rainy season, so even if the weather’s gloomy there are still, at least, beautiful flowers to look at! Hydrangea festivals take place across the country.

Rice planting festival in Osaka – Japan is a major rice producer so rice-planting season is pretty important. Rice planting festivals, where rice seedlings are placed into paddies along to dance and music, are found all over Japan, but the Otaue festival in Osaka is the most famous.

Fussa Firefly festival – around 500 fireflies are released in this city located about an hour west of central Tokyo. A hugely popular event held in the early days of summer.

Tanabata matsuri in Asagaya

July

JLPT exam (Tokyo) – the first of two annual Japanese Language Proficiency Tests held in Japan.

Tanabata –  a vibrant festival that is celebrated countrywide and based on an old Chinese myth. Special features involve writing wishes on colourful pieces of paper and tying them to bamboo decorations, as well as large colourful paper streamers.

Olympics (Tokyo) – In 2020, Tokyo will be hosting the Summer Olympics for the first time since 1964.

Mt Fuji climbing season start – Mt Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain, is officially open to climbers.

August

Obon – Japanese Buddhist event to commemorate one’s ancestors. Often involves people returning to their hometowns and is another significant time of travel in Japan.

Pikachu horde in Yokohama – the annual Pikachu Festival sees giant Pikachu dancing on the streets of Yokohama. The multi-day event involves several performances and activities throughout the day and evening.

Gion matsuri in Kyoto) – the most famous festival in Japan with a spectacular procession of floats.

Summer Sonic in Osaka – annual multi-day music festival that takes place at the same time in both Osaka and Chiba, featuring both international and local artists.

Yoshida fire festival (closing the climbing season) – massive torches lining the city of Fujiyoshida are lit up to celebrate the end of Mt Fuji’s climbing season.

Sumo tournament

September

Tokyo Game Show – large video game expo held annually.

Seiryu-e festival in Kyoto – a relatively new festival, the Blue Dragon Festival was created to honour Seiryu, one of four god-beasts said to protect Kyoto from misfortune and disaster. Features a procession that includes a large dragon costume.

Grand Sumo tournament in Tokyo – the second-to-last major sumo tournament of the year held at the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo.

Tokyo Tower Taiwan festival in Tokyo – Taiwan and Japan have strong ties and each year Tokyo Tower hosts an array of stalls selling Taiwanese food and products.

October

Jidai matsuri – takes place on the foundation day of Kyoto and features a large parade showing off costumes from almost every period of Japan.

Tokyo Motor Show – one of Japan’s largest automotive events that shows off new vehicles.

Halloween in Shibuya – Japan has really embraced Halloween in recent years and in Tokyo, huge crowds of people turn out each year in costume to hang out in Shibuya.

Bakaneko parade in Kagurazaka and Kawasaki parade – part of Halloween festivities, the Bakeneko parade sees participants dressing up in cat-related gear to parade down one of Tokyo’s poshest neighbourhoods. The Kawasaki parade is the most famous Halloween event in Japan, where participants and spectators number in the 100,000s.

Momiji matsuri in Mt Takao

November

Mt Takao festival and Momijigari – November is the month for autumn leaves watching and for those in Tokyo, Mt Takao is one of the most popular places to experience the changing of the seasons.

Kyushu Grand Sumo tournament in Fukuoka – part of the six annual major sumo tournaments that take place across the country.

Asakusa Tori no ichi in Tokyo  – held at a number of shrines and temples on set days to welcome prosperity, health and good fortune in business. 

December

JLPT – the second JLPT exam to take place in Japan each year.

Illuminations – a signature of winter across Japan, many public and open spaces, as well as businesses, set up lights and effects to bring the sparkle to otherwise dark and cold winter nights.

Mochi-tsuki – there is a long period of eating mochi for New Years, so it’s tradition for many households to start mochi-tsuki, or the pounding of rice to make mochi, around the start of the new year.

Japan ski season start – Japan is famed for the high quality of its powder snow and December will see the start of many crowds of both Japanese and foreign snow lovers descend on ski resorts.

NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen (on Japanese tv, 31st evening) – annual live show broadcast by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK. The show divides the year’s most popular music artists into red (females) and white (male) who perform and the judges and audience decide which group performed better.

As you can see, regardless of whether you’re only spending one year, or less, in Japan or staying for much longer, being bored is simply not a possibility with so much going on all the time!