Skip to content

Matsuri: All About Traditional Japanese Festivals

There is a certain aspect of Japanese culture you most certainly will find it important to be informed about and also experience firsthand. It is the traditional festival known in Japanese as “Matsuri” (pronounced “mot-soo-ree”).

There are all types of festivals held in Japan from small village fairs to enormous events watched by millions of people.

It’s true that many countries hold and enjoy festivals. But I’m not sure if there is a country where these festivals occur so often and are woven into the culture of the society to such an extent.

Japan Loves A Matsuri

Japanese Fesival In Sendai

Matsuris are so common and popular in Japan that a Japanese saying states there is always a festival happening somewhere in Japan. Just about everyone loves a good reason for a big party with friends and family, so it is certainly no surprise that the festivals are so frequent and well attended.

It is one of a few socially acceptable reasons to justify a day off and also many other potentially questionable behaviors such as partial, or occasionally full, public nudity and running through the streets shouting for hours. Not to mention the open celebration of themes like fertility with plenty of Japanese sake to liven up the party.

Why Does Japan Have Festivals?

Japanese Fesival In Sapporo

This is not to say that Japanese festivals are just big parties. On the contrary, one of the aspects that makes a matsuri so wonderful an occasion is the fact that it is usually focused on the celebration of a perceptually sacred purpose or event.

Matsuri happens for a number of reasons, including the celebration of the New Year, a celebration of women reaching adulthood, conceptual purification, boosting fertility, and many more.

Since much of what is considered sacred in Japan is thankfully nature, matsuris also coincide with the arrival of the beautiful spring cherry blossoms and other such natural wonders. There are rituals performed by the Shinto priests of Japan’s animism and many of the fun activities that the public is involved in are also actually considered ritualistic rites.

Why You Should Go To A Matsuri In Japan

Japanese Fesival

Festivals can be a really wonderful way to learn a lot about Japanese culture in a very natural way and also can be a nice place to make new Japanese friends. People in Japan are sometimes not as readily willing to openly share the “unspoken” side of Japanese culture, but a matsuri is a much more open affair.

Since there is often a lot of Japanese sake involved in matsuris, many people will be much more relaxed and also more likely comfortable enough to talk about anything. Even your attendance and genuine interest in the event alone are likely enough to inspire a new level of respect for you in your Japanese companions.

Their openness is especially evident if they are only wearing a “fundoshi”, which is a Japanese loincloth common at many matsuris. It is even more evident if they are wearing nothing at all.

A Japanese Fireworks Fesival Hanabi Matsuri

A Japanese Fireworks Festival Hanabi Matsuri

The Naked Festival

While complete public nudity at a matsuri is rare, it does occur in certain kinds of matsuri. One, in particular, involves hundreds or thousands of drunken men in fundoshi gathered outside in winter and touching a single nude man chosen to be the purifier of the town. Now that is a party.