Three Great Festivals this August in Japan

by GoWithGuide travel specialist

Planning a trip to Japan this August, and looking for something to do? We highly recommend adding a festival to your itinerary. We have selected the three biggest festivals that will take place in Japan during the first two weeks of August, to help you organise your travel plans:

Morioka Sansa Odori Festival (Iwate)

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The sound of nimble flutes, the smart drumming of wadaiko, and the colorful costumes garbed around the performers acting in perfect order serve to excite the audience. The Morioka Sansa Odori is a festival spotlighting the Tohoku area that attracts people with its grand scale and magnificence. Its history as a large festival is a relatively short one as it only began from 1978. However, it was originally inspired from literature that has remained from the year 1780. Because of a demon that was terrorizing the castle town of Morioka, the people prayed for salvation at Mitsuishi Shrine and when the demon was ousted, there was dancing around Mitsuishi in celebration which begat the legend. Afterwards, the Sansa dance began to be performed everywhere that led to the Morioka Sansa Odori which is gaily held as a large-scale festival. All of the local organizations vie on beauty and technique through their dances and musical accompaniment for spectacular performances. Another enjoyable feature is that every team has its own choreography and costume.

The Sansa Odori is great for anyone being able to easily take part in the dancing. There is the Sansa Oherense Group in which you can participate in the parade through practice on the same day, but you have to apply by e-mail ahead of time. In that case, it is recommended to take part in Kawaru Sansa which is easier to get in. With no prior reservations required, you can take part in the training and then just enjoy the dancing. Instructors from traditional Sansa organizations will carefully guide you without any worries even if you have no experience. Participating and not just watching is even more enjoyable. A big plus is the rapport with the local people through dancing.

Admission: Free 

Dates: August 1st - August 4th

Guidebook from Planetyze about Morioka Sansa Odori Festival
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Morioka Sansa Odori Festival
Tours of Morioka Sansa Odori Festival

Yamagata Hanagasa Festival (Yamagata)

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Annually from August 5th to 7th, the 3 days of the Hanagasa Festival are famous as a large-scale celebration representing the Tohoku area throughout the nation. With the high-spirited cries of “Yassho, makasho!!”, wadaiko drums grandly echo in time with the song of “Hanagasa Ondo”. The major streets of the city that make up the venue for the festival overflow with the passion of groups of dancers performing in perfect order. In front of the beautifully adorned floats, a parade is held comprised of dancers sporting hanagasa that resemble hats decorated with safflower, the prefectural flower for Yamagata. Dancing while lightly twirling the hanagasa makes for a graceful sight. That particular dance expresses the fresh wind that crosses over the Mogami River flowing through Yamagata Prefecture and the waving of the ears of rice in the paddies. Also, the song accompanying the dance, the Hanagasa Ondo, is said to have originated from a ballad sung by workers toiling outside to work in rhythm. The memories behind the history of Yamagata and the beautiful natural landscape are imbued into the dancing to create a huge summer festival with the entire citizenry as one.

Just seeing everyone from kids to grown-ups getting into various groups and taking part in the dance parades is fun enough, but there is also the Tobiiri Corner for folks who want to enjoy participating in the dance themselves. At the Corner set up near the parade goal (in front of the city hall), you can enjoy dancing in a circle without joining in the parade. Also, if you find the placard for “Tobiiri Corner” at the tail-end of the parade, that is your chance to jump into the parade itself. In either case, a teacher will provide training so even beginners can take part without any worry. It is a great opportunity to experience the culture and entertainment of the land through a festival.

Admission: Free

Dates: August 5th - August 7th

Guidebook from Planetyze about Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Yamagata Hanagasa Festival
Tours of Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

Yosakoi Festival (Kochi)

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During the four days of the festival which consist of August 9th (the festival eve), August 10th and 11th (the two main days) and August 12th (the final night/national competition), about 19,000 dancers armed with naruko (small wooden clappers) and belonging to about 200 teams parade through the downtown area while dancing to the Yosakoi Bushi within Kochi City’s 9 contest areas and 7 theaters in a passionate festival. Depending on the team, the costumes vary from the traditional happi coat to elaborately designed and unique outfits and hairstyles, and a variety of music and choreography are shown by each of the teams which arrange anything from a Japanese style to samba. The naruko which has been called the symbol of the Yosakoi was once  a farming tool whose sound used to shoo away birds from the crops, but has now been incorporated into the dance and has become one of the instruments to create the music through its clacking sounds produced by both hands. It has become an indispensable item for the Yosakoi Festival.

The festival first took place after the Second World War as the Kochi City Chamber of Commerce came up with the idea to boost the citizens’ health and prosperity. From 1999, team competitions began on a national level for the Yosakoi Prize in which a panel of 10 judges rated performances based on categories of song, dance, naruko clacking, costume and the truck with the music broadcast source (known as a jikata-sha). In addition, individual prizes were selected at all competition venues with various types of medals being awarded. The number of people taking part in a team has ranged from a record low of 4 people to a record high of 800 participants. The power and scale of a team with around 100 dancers is amazing so this carnival of passion is incredible for observers. In watching the festival, there are reserved seats which can be purchased in advance and free unreserved seats which are available on the day of the performances.

Admission: Free

Dates: August 9th - August 12th

Guidebook from Planetyze about Yosakoi Festival 
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Yosakoi Festival 
Tours of Yosakoi Festival