• Saizen Tours

Tanabata and Summer Festivals!

Japan’s official summer season commences at the beginning of June and finishes at the end of August. Except for a short rainy season, called tsuyu (梅雨), the summer months are usually filled with sunny days and popular summer matsuri festivals. Japan’s summer is the perfect time for school groups wishing to travel to Japan during the June/July school holidays. There are so many local festivals to choose from therefore below is a selection of festivals held in the major tourist cities during the Australian June/July school holidays.

Visit a local festival, dress up in summer yukata, eat kakigōri and traditional matsuri food, play festival games and view the fireworks at night. A perfect cultural event to share with students!


The Sannō Matsuri (山王祭) is one of the three major Tokyo festivals celebrated in mid June during even numbered years, alternating with the Tokyo Kanda Matsuri. The festival was established to celebrate Tokyo (known as Edo) as the capital and the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo Period (1603-1867). The festival has many small events and lasts for over a week. However the main attraction is the parade that begins at Hie Shrine and winds through the streets of Tokyo. From Hie Shrine the parade passes Yasukuni Shrine, continues to Tokyo Imperial Palace, Tokyo Station, Nihonbashi Bridge, Ginza, Shinbashi Station and finishes where it started at Hie Shrine. The parade consists of festival floats, portable mikoshi shrines and about 500 people dressed in period costume. There is traditional Japanese entertainment, music, dance and Sannō drums.


Fireworks (hanabi 花火) are a summer festival favourite; featured at both large festivals and small local festivals. The biggest and best is the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival (Sumida Hanabi Taikai 隅田川花火大会), an annual fireworks festival held on the last Saturday in July. The festival attracts massive crowds, commences at 7pm and runs for about 90 minutes. The Sumidagawa Hanabi Taikai follows the Japanese tradition of being a huge competition between rival pyrotechnic groups. Believed to have first exploded onto the scene in 1733, this event has a long history of intense competition, with pyrotechnic companies still today trying to outdo one another.  The best viewpoint is said to be at Sumida Park. That said, everyone heads to Sumida Park and therefore you need to be there REALLY EARLY to roll out your blue tarp! Asakusa Station is the closest subway station. Try further north at Shiori Park for an alternative area with not quite as many crowds.


Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) is Kyoto’s biggest annual festival and renowned for being the most famous festival in all of Japan. It consists of many different events with the grand procession of floats taking place on 17th July each year. There is a second procession of smaller and fewer floats that takes place one week later on the 24th July.

The floats are displayed for three days before the respective processions and tourists are even able to enter some of the floats. The huge floats are constructed from crafted timber and decorated with beautiful Nishijin fabrics. The floats sit on massive wheels and take dozens of men to pull each float through the streets. The display area of floats is situated within half a kilometre of the intersection of Karasuma and Shijo Streets. From 6pm until 11pm these streets are closed to traffic and replaced with festival food and drink stalls.

Buy yourself a summer yukata, get dressed up, put on your happy face and join the fun!

The 17th July procession starts at 9am and follows a three-kilometre route along Shijo, Kawaramachi and Oike Streets. The official endpoint is the Oike-Karasuma intersection.

The most interesting vantage points are the corners where you can watch the painstaking process of manouvering these gigantic floats turning around the street corners. You can book and pay for some seating online however there are many vantage points along the streets.

The festival dates back to 869, starting as a religious ceremony to appease the gods during an epidemic. Today the festival continues the practice of selecting a local boy to be a divine messenger. The child cannot set foot on the ground from the 13th July until after he has been paraded through town on the 17th July.


If you are in Osaka on the 25th of July head to Osaka Tenmangu Shrine and the Okawa River for the famous Tenjin Matsuri (天神祭). This is one of Japan’s top three festivals. It boasts music and dance, lion dancers, portable mikoshi shrines, floats, fireworks and spectacular bonfires on boats.

The Tenjin Matsuri begins on July 24 with a lion dance at the Tenmangu Shrine and prayers for Osaka's safety and prosperity. When the ceremony has finished men in red hats begin playing drums to signal the start of the festivities.

The festival first began in the year 951. Sugawara Michizane, the Japanese deity of scholarship and learning, is enshrined at Tenmangu. During the festival he is moved from the shrine to a portable mikoshi shrine and carried through the streets, before being taken on a cruise of the city to ensure Osaka's prosperity.

At 3:30pm, on the second day July 25, the traditional floats, portable mikoshi shrines and performers commence at the shrine and head to the Okawa River. The highlight of the festival is in the evening when the mikoshi shrines are loaded onto illuminated boats from the Nakanoshima Park area - the area is an easy walk from the shrine. Thousands of festival food stalls are set up along the river and the crowds mingle dressed in summer yukata to celebrate and watch the fireworks.

Unsurprisingly, the banks of the Okawa River become very crowded in anticipation of the fireworks display. People start arriving very early to get the best spots so it’s best to arrive as early as possible. The floating procession finishes at 9pm after the fireworks finish and mark the end of the festival.


The Narita Gion Festival is celebrated every year in early July. The date of the festival may change slightly from year to year so it is best to check the dates before you arrive. The people of Narita have been celebrating the festival for the past 300 years to pray for the summer rice planting and a good harvest.

The festival begins at Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, after midday on the first day, with a blessing ceremony and a meeting of the festival float bearers before they parade around Narita City. The festival floats are spectacular - exquisite woodwork, sumptuous draperies, and a company of musicians, float bearers, and dancers in colourful costumes accompany each festival float. The festival continues into the evenings, with lights on the floats and participants bearing lanterns.

Each day the procession of floats continue with traditional dancers and music. The floats wind their way through the steep and narrow streets of Narita accompanied by drums and chanting. The streets are abundant with stalls and festival food. Plus don’t miss the local specialty, grilled eel, served in many shops along the main street, Omotesando-Dori, which winds its way down to Naritasan Temple.

Naritasan Temple is easily accessed by train or bus from Narita International Airport.

Check festival dates and book an overnight stay in Narita City to enjoy the festivities!

If you are in Narita at a different time of the year some of the floats can be seen on the first floor of the Narita Tourist Pavillion. The tourist pavillion is located on Omotesando Street leading to Naritasan Temple. Entrance to the float hall is free.


Sawara Festival (佐原祭) is one of my most favourite local festivals. Sawara is a small town situated northeast of Narita City in Chiba Prefecture. During the Edo Period (1603~1867) the town prospered as a transport hub for rice being shipped to the capital via the canals and Ono River. Sawara is situated on a canal, and is known as "Little Edo" for its small district of preserved and restored traditional residences, merchant shops and warehouses from the Edo Period. The canal is crossed by a number of small bridges with flat-bottomed, traditional boat tours departing regularly for tourists.

Sawara can be reached by train from Narita Station on the JR Narita Line. The adult fare is ¥510 and takes 30 minutes. The historic canal district is about 10-15 minutes walk from Sawara Station.