But as you'll find out, there's nothing conventional about many of Japan's matsuri, a fact that reveals an underlying sense of playfulness in the country's culture. And not everything has religious undertones--Sapporo's annual Snow Festival, for example, is all about gawking at massive snow and ice sculptures.
The two main religions of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism, are not mutually exclusive, and coexist as religious forces in the country. In fact, many of Japan's celebrations are based on religious themes. All of Tokyo turns out to celebrate Buddha's Birthday, visiting temples all around the city and filling the streets with parades to celebrate the holy big guy. And young children are taken to temples to get special blessings during Shichi-Go-San.
Religion becomes a bit more boisterous during Omizutori, at the Todaiji Temple in Nara. During this very pious ceremony, lamas perform an exaggerated, accelerated ritual that culminates in showering the crowd with burning embers and sprinkling them with holy water. In Tokyo's largest festival, Sanja Matsuri, the Sensoji Temple takes center stage. Hundreds of shrines bearing the temple's guardian deities are run around town by groups of rowdy men (the rougher the ride, the more the gods are pleased).
In a society that holds fast to tradition and propriety, many Japanese festivals are surprisingly unconventional. Inazawa's Naked Festival, for example, gets pretty rowdy. It involves a specially-chosen naked man, who runs through the town's surrounding areas while mobs of barely-dressed men throng to touch him--in the middle of February!
Where nudity is concerned, the Naked Festival does not hold a monopoly. Every year in Komaki, huge crowds gather to celebrate the phallus. Yes, the Tagata Fertility Festival, or Hounen Matsuri, is all about penises--penis lollipops, penis shrines, and a huge wooden penis that is carried around by excited groups of men.
When it comes to having a good time in Japan, there's a little something for everyone. But whatever you do, get ready to eat a lot, drink a lot, and have a lot of fun, because the friendly people of Japan won't have it any other way.
|December||Japanese New Year Celebrations||Tokyo|
|February||Sapporo Snow Festival (Yuki Matsuri)||Sapporo, Hokkaido|
|February||Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival)||Inazawa, Achi Prefecture|
|March||Hounen Matsuri (Tagata Fertility Festival)||Komaki, Aichi Prefecture|
|April||Buddha's Birthday (Hana Matsuri)||Tokyo|
|May||Sumo Wrestling Championships||Tokyo|
Japan in UK
A list of Japanese Celebrations