Summer is festival season in Japan. You can attend a festival every weekend and many weekdays somewhere in Japan. Many are only small, local festivals but they are still worth experiencing at least once while you are here. Summer festivals are also one of the best places to see many people dressed in traditional Japanese yukatas and getas. All festivals feature seasonal/local food stalls and many also have fireworks displays. The festivals listed below are some of the regionally famous Gion and Obon festivals. For a comprehensive list visit http://www.nibh.jp/~takahashi/tradevents/index_e.cgi (Please note that some ceremonies are closed to the public.)
July 15 18:00-22:00 -ST (Oda, Tsukuba) Gion feast at Oda (Lion dog dance and Mikoshi parade)
July 21-23 (Tsuchiura) Gion feast of Tsuchiura City (many floats in several places including downtown, Takatsu, Kidamari, Nakamura and etc.)
July 22 (Kise, Tsukuba) Summer festival (with "Hayasi" traditional music)
July 22 9:30-16:00 (AIST, Tsukuba) Open laboratories of AIST (Natl. Inst. of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology)
July 23-26 13:00 (Makabe) Gion feast at Gosho-Komagataki shrine (many floats on 25th, Mikoshi parade on the first day and the last day)
July 27 21:00-22:00 (Shimotsuma) Anniversary feast at Kurokoma Fudo temple (water bathing ceremony)
July 27-30 (Shimodate) Gion feast of Shimodate (2.5t portable shrine goes into a river in early 28th)
July 28-29 18:30-22:00 (Imakashima, Tsukuba) Gion feast in Imagashima (Drumming, portable shrines)
July 29 (Tokyo) Firework festival of Sumida-gawa River, Asakusa
July 29-30 12:00-21:30 (Ushiku) "Kappa (an imaginary animal in a river)" feast (100s of stands and dancing parade from 18:00-20:00)
July 30 (Itako) "Nobukata-sumo" ceremonial Sumo by young children in Nobukata
August 4 19:30-21:00 (Mitsukaido) Firework feast
August 4-6 (Mito) Memorial feast for a regional hero Mitsukuni Tokugawa, with parades and fireworks
August 5 18:00-22:00 (Shimodate) Lantern floating in Gogyo-gawa river
August 5 20:20-21:30 (Shimotsuma) Firework feast at Sanuma pond
August 5-6 13:00-21:30RSM (Tsuchiura) "Kirara Matsuri" feast (Tanabata feast, floats, fire works and etc.)
August 5-7 (Itako) Gion feast of Itako (many floats)
August 6 19:30-21:00 (Shimodate) Firework feast in Kawashima
August 12 (Center, Tsukuba) Street dance festival
August 12 19:30-21:00 (Toride) Firework festival of Toride-Tonegawa
August 15 17:30- (Ushiku) "Man-do" regional fire ceremony at Ushiku Arcadia (World’s largest Buddha statue is lit up, fireworks)
August 5 20:00- (Niihari) "Karakasa Man-do (a big parasol with fireworks)" feast at Washi shrine
August 23 19:00-21:00 (Takaoka, Ina) "Tsunabi," demonstration of traditional marionettes and fireworks
August 26-27 (Center area, Tsukuba) "Matsuri Tsukuba," a feast of the science city
Gion Festivals originated as part of a purification ritual to free people from plagues and pestilence. Young men, some with wooden floats, paraded through the streets to ask for divine intervention. The plague ended and the festival continued. Some of the floats used in Gion parades are spectacular.
Obon is a Budhhist holiday to honor the departed spirits of one's ancestors. It has evolved into a family reunion holiday during which people from the big cities return to their home towns to visit and clean their ancestors' graves. On the last day of the festival, paper lanterns (chouchin) are floated down a river as a way to guide the spirits of the departed back to the other world.
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