(January) Shōgatsu - Japanese New Year is officially on 1 to 3 January, and families come together to eat and drink to health and happiness whilst many businesses and attractions close the whole first week, and transport is busy. Hatsu-mōde is the ritual first shrine visit of the new year.
(February) Sapporo Snow Festival or Sapporo Yuki Matsuri takes place at the beginning of February. Essentially an epic celebration of winter, it attracts over 2 million visitors who partake in snow related games as well as marvelling at the spectacular snow and ice sculptures.
(March) Hina Matsuri, also known as Girl’s Day, takes place on 3rd March and is, as the name suggests, all about the females of the family. Traditional o-hina-sama (princess) dolls in traditional royal dress are displayed throughout the home and public spaces, families enjoy special meals and gifts are given to the girls.
(April/October) The Takayama Matsuri, known as one of Japan’s top four most beautiful festivals, is held twice a year in the old town of Takayama: in April (14th-15th) to welcome in Spring, and an Autumn festival in October (9th-10th). Large festival floats and a ‘mikoshi’ shrine are paraded through the streets.
Golden Week (29th April – 5th May) is one of Japan’s busiest holidays thanks to four national holidays taking place within the space of seven days. This is a national holiday and one of the busiest weeks of the year for domestic travellers.
(May) Sanja Matsuri is the grandest Tokyo festival of all. This annual three-day event, held over the third weekend of May, attracts around 1.5 million spectators to Asakusa. The highlight is the rowdy parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) carried by men and women in traditional dress.
(July) Gion Matsuri, the festival of Yasaka Shrine, is the most famous festival in Japan. It takes place over the entire month of July, when huge, elaborate floats are pulled through the streets. Three evenings prior, locals stroll through street markets dressed in beautiful yukata (light cotton kimonos).
(July) Held in Osaka on 24 and 25 July, the Tenjin Festival (天神祭, Tenjin Matsuri) is one of the country's biggest festivals. On the second day, processions of mikoshi (portable shrines) and people in traditional attire parade through the streets, ending up in hundreds of boats on the river.
(August) Nebuta Matsuri: Over several days in early August, enormous, illuminated floats are paraded through the streets of Aomori, Towadako and Yokohama in Northern Honshū accompanied by thousands of rowdy, chanting dancers. The festival concludes on the 7th when the floats are loaded onto boats and set out to sea against a backdrop of fireworks.
Observed in mid-August during 3 days, Obon is a Buddhist festival that honours the dead, when their spirits are said to return to the earth. Graves are swept, offerings are made and lanterns are floated down rivers, lakes or the sea to help guide spirits on their journey.