This listing includes festivals throughout Hiroshima Prefecture, as well as a few popular festivals outside the prefecture that Hiroshima JETs often attend. We need your help to make this list complete and up to date. Is there a festival you’d like to add, or can you offer more details about these events? Please contact us. ありがとうございます！
Tondo Matsuri (Burning Tower Festivals)
When: Around Jan. 15
What: Around the New Year, many homes and businesses hang sacred rope decorations called shimekazari above the door to ward off evil spirits and invite gods to enter. After the New Year, various towns throughout the prefecture will have tondo festivals to dispose of the shimekazari in huge bonfires. It’s a good time to go get nice and toasty.
Hakada Matsuri in Okayama (Naked Man Festival)
When: Third Saturday in February
Where: Saidaiji Temple, Okayama City, Okayama Prefecture
What: Although many cities boast about their Naked Man Festival, the Okayama festival is one of the oldest and largest in Japan – and is something that everyone should see (if not participate in) at least once. Thousands of men strip down to fundoshi (Japanese loincloth), purify their bodies with cold water, and at midnight battle to gain possession of the shingi (sacred stick). If, after battling fierce competitors and braving the cold weather, they succeed in obtaining the stick, they are guaranteed happiness for the rest of the year. This is an event that must be seen to be believed.
Kui Town Naked Man Festival
When: Third Saturday in February
Where: Kui Town, Hiroshima Prefecture
What: This is a much smaller version of Okayama’s Naked Man Festival, held on the same day. They also have the nearly naked men and copious amounts of sake, and they also throw mochi at the spectators.
Sapporo Yuki Matsuri (Snow Festival)
When: Festival runs for one week in early February
Where: Sapporo City, Hokkaido
What: Sapporo’s famous Snow Festival attracts more than 2 million visitors from around the world each year, including plenty of Hiroshima JETs. The event is divided into three areas. Odori Park in central Sapporo features hundreds of snow sculptures, including some truly awe-inspiring life-size reproductions of Japanese temples or other buildings. At the Susukino site in Sapporo’s entertainment district, you will find a street filled with intricate ice sculptures. Once you’ve finished admiring all the snow art, you can head to the Tsudome area to play on enormous snow slides and build Japanese snowmen. Japanese travel agencies will offer reasonably-priced package deals including airfare and accommodations for the Snow Festival. Just be sure to book early – around October timeframe – because they sell out well in advance.
Kaki Matsuri (Oyster Festival)
When: Mid to late February
Where: Throughout Hiroshima Prefecture
What: Middle to late February is when Hiroshima’s oyster farmers harvest their largest crops of oysters. Many of the islands and coastal towns in Hiroshima hold a festival in honor of the oyster harvest. There are stalls selling oysters prepared in all different ways as well as the traditional festival stalls.
Shinmei-ichi Festival (Daruma Doll Festival)
When: Second weekend in February
Where: Mihara City
What: Daruma Dolls are round, red, papier mache dolls featuring an eyeless, bearded man. They serve as good luck charms and symbols of perseverance. Traditionally, when you get a Daruma doll, you are supposed to set a goal and draw in one of the eyes. When you reach your goal, you fill in the other eye. A variety of large and small Daruma dolls are sold during this festival and old Daruma dolls are burned during a memorial service.
Hina-nagashi (Paper Doll Floating)
When: Early March
Where: Otake City
What: Children and residents of Otake city make a pair of emperor and empress Hina dolls out of colorful papers or paper clay and place them on a straw lid. Then they float the dolls down the Oze River while wishing for good luck.
When: Late March
What: This event features a parade with participants dressed in traditional costumes depicting the ancient Heian Period.
Noh Performances at Miyajima
When: April 16-18
Where: Miyajima, Itsukushima Shrine
What: The ancient Japanese performance art of Noh, which dates back to the 14th century, will be performed in front of Itsukushima Shrine.
Onomichi Minato Festival
When: Fourth weekend of April
Where: Onomichi City
What: Onomichi’s annual port festival commemorates the foundation of Onomichi as a port town whose inhabitants made their fortunes through maritime trade and fishing. The festival features a parade and is one of the biggest events of the year in Onomichi, with activities in front of JR Onomichi Station, the Hondori shopping arcade and City Hall.
Kure Port Fair
When: April 29
What: This festival celebrates Kure’s naval roots. Enjoy folk arts and music, singing contests, parades and other performances, as well as a children’s festival with plenty of entertainment for kids.
Hiroshima Flower Festival
When: May 3 to 5
Where: Hiroshima Peace Park and Peace Boulevard
What: The Flower Festival attracts more than a million visitors each year and features a parade, concerts, dance and fashion shows, and, of course, flower displays.
MCAS Friendship Day
When: Early May
Where: Iwakuni City, Yamaguchi Prefecture
What: Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Iwakuni on this day to enjoy the air show as well as one of Japan’s biggest motorbike rallies. This is the one day each year that the air base opens to the public. That means you have rare access to the eateries on the base – including Taco Bell! So eat up, amigos! The air show will be on the 5th this year.
Fukuyama Rose Festival
Where: Fukuyama City, Rose Park and Midori-machi Park
What: Started in 1956, the Rose Festival is the largest event in Fukuyama. Check out the many varieties of roses, watch performances and eat delicious food. Various events happen during the festival, including a rose wedding, concert, street performances, rose parade and illuminations.
Mihara Satsuki Festival
When: Late May
Where: Mihara City, Miyaura Park
What: In honor of the satsuki (that’s the dwarf azalea to you), this festival features parades, flea markets and good ole’ Japanese street vendor food.
Taiami Fishing Performance
When: Every Saturday and Sunday in May
Where: Sensui Island, near Tomonoura port in Fukuyama City
What: Every year during the month of May the historic port village of Tomonoura hosts the Taiami Fishing Festival. During this celebration of traditional fishing methods, groups of Japanese men board old wooden boats and cast their nets into the Seto Inland Sea, scooping up many fish.
Toukasan Matsuri (Yukata Festival)
When: First weekend of June
Where: Hiroshima City. The festival stretches through downtown along Chuo-Dori street and the area around Alice Park by Parco.
What: Some 400,000 people flock downtown for this event, which marks the beginning of summer in Hiroshima. After this festival, women can wear lightweight yukata instead of thick kimono until autumn. Before the weekend of Toukasan, young women hunt for the most beautiful and unique yukata of the season to wear while promenading down the streets of Hiroshima. There are male yukata, but men are more often seen wearing jinbei, which resemble Japanese pajamas. During the festival, you can join the huge lines of people visiting Enryuji Temple, located at the corner of Chuo-dori street and Peace Blvd., to pray for good luck and buy a Toukasan fan (called a yakuyoke uchiwa). Or you can stay street-side and take in some bon dancing, taiko drumming or purchase some traditional festival grub from the dozens of stalls. If you only wear your yukata once this year, this is the time. You can buy yukata sets for 4,000 yen and jinbei for 1,500 yen at places like Uniqlo.
Mibu-no Hanada-ue (Rice Planting Festival)
When: First Sunday in June
Where: Chiyoda Town
What: This rice planting festival has been designated a “national significant intangible folk cultural asset” (whew!). Beautifully decorated cows will cultivate the rice fields, and women dressed in traditional costumes called saotome will plant rice to the beat of taiko drums. This event features some kagura dancing. To get to Chiyoda from Hiroshima Bus Center, take an express bus and get off at the Chiyoda I.C. stop (a 50-minute ride). From there, it’s a 10-minute walk.
Otebi Fire Festival
Where: Tomonoura village, Fukuyama City
What: This fire ritual is one of those rare Japanese events that combines the fun of a family friendly festival with the potential horror of being burned to death. Groups of young men carry large bundles of burning sticks up to a temple over many hours. During this time, they chant and swing the burning sticks around wildly, all while a massive crowd of onlookers narrowly avoids being burned. To get there from Fukuyama, go to bus stop No. 1, next to Starbucks, and take the bus to Tomonoura (鞆の浦). Follow the crowd to Nunakuma-jinja.
Hiroshima Port Fireworks Festival
When: Late July
Where: Ujina Port, Hiroshima City
What: Large crowds flock to Ujina Port for this long fireworks display. Go early to snag a good spot and fill your belly at some of the many food vendors.
When: End of July
Where: Innoshima Suigun Castle, Kinren Temple
What: Innoshima was home to the Murakami Pirates in the past, and the Pirate Festival is the biggest event on the island. It involves a warriors’ parade, a boat race, a ceremony at the local temple and a fireworks display.
Sumiyoshi Summer Fireworks Festival
When: Between the end of July and the first Saturday in August
Where: Onomichi Channel
What: Thousands of fireworks are set off over Onomichi Channel, where there is a colorful parade of boats.
Atomic Bomb Memorial Ceremony
When: August 6
Where: Hiroshima Peace Park
What: A ceremony memorializing the bomb begins around 7:30 a.m. in Peace Park, with the tolling of the peace bell at 8:15 a.m., the same time the bomb dropped. At dusk, lanterns representing the souls of the victims are released to float down the river, a truly haunting sight.
International Animation Festival in Japan
When: Early August (In 2010, it will be Aug. 7-11). This festival takes place once every two years.
Where: Hiroshima City, Aster Plaza. Click here for access information and maps.
What: There are numerous screeings in each of the three theaters at Aster Plaza. Go and get your fill of drawn, stencilled, inked, painted, computer-generated, stop-motioned, claymated images. See the festival’s English website for more details.
Miyajima Fireworks Festival
When: Around August 14
What: This is Hiroshima’s more popular fireworks display, attracting some 300,000 visitors. Spectacular fireworks will be set off over the sea behind the famous “floating” torii. Be prepared for large crowds.
When: Second weekend in August
What: All Mihara residents, even new JETs, are encouraged to join in the more than 500-year-old Yassa dance during this festival. The event celebrates Mihara’s completion of its so-called “floating castle” in 1567 with three days of dancing, singing and drinking.
Fukuyama Summer Festival
Where: Downtown Fukuyama City
What: Fukuyama’s Summer Festival features the Niagari Odori dance, an exciting twilight event with a 300-year tradition. Many residents parade through the streets, participating in the dance and other events. The festival ends with a large fireworks display on the last day.
Tamatorisai (Treasure Ball Scrambling Festival)
When: Around the third weekend in August
Where: Miyajima, Itsukushima Shrine
What: Young men clad only in loin cloths will fight for a precious good luck stone that is hanging from a tower placed in the sea in front of the famous “floating” torii. There are a few food vendors and taiko drum performances.
Microbrewery Beer Festa
When: September (late)
Where: Hiroshima City
What: Sample as many fine microbrews as you like from numerous breweries around Japan. It may be wise to purchase your tickets in advance at the convenience store, since tickets has sold out in the past. This event takes place in the Rijyu Kaikan (inside the Hiroshima Kenmin Bunka Center between Hondori and the main DeoDeo store).
Miyoshi Wine Autumn Festival
When: Mid to Late September
Where: Miyoshi City, at the Hiroshima Miyoshi Winery
What: Miyoshi Winery is the only genuine winery in Hiroshima prefecture, and September is the best season for Japanese grapes. At this event you can taste the grapes, the wine, the purple ice cream and even some barbecue. The wine factory has an observation point so you can watch the wine-making process. Admission is free, but there is a 1,300 yen admission fee to enter the sake and food tasting corner. To get there, take the JR Geibi line to JR Miyoshi Station and take a bus bound for Miyoshi Chuo Byoin. Get off at Miyoshi Winery (a 10-minute bus ride). There is a free shuttle bus between JR Miyoshi Station and the winery.
Calligraphy Brush Festival
When: September 23
Where: Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture
What: Kumano Town is known for producing fude, or calligraphy brushes. During this event, people decorate the shrine with thousands of brushes, do their own calligraphy and watch the calligraphy masters do their thing. Old calligraphy brushes are burned and a wide variety of new brushes are sold by vendors. Of course there are a number of food vendors, as well. Kumano is 45 minutes by bus from Hiroshima JR station (platform 13), and 35 minutes by bus from JR Kure Station (platform 2).
What: Sake lovers from all over Japan will descend on Saijo this weekend to sample the nearly 1,000 brands of sake offered by the many vendors. There are also food vendors, parades and sake brewery tours. You’ll develop a love of sake… or end up never drinking it again!
Shobara Autumn Festival
When: Early October
Where: Shobara City, in Bihoku Kyuryo Park
What: The cosmos flowers will be at their best during this time – all 1.5 million of them! To get there from Hiroshima Bus Center, take a bus to Bihoku Kyuryo Park (a two-hour trip), or you can take the JR Geibi Line to JR Nanatsuka Station and then walk 20 minutes to the park.
Hiroshima Food Festival
When: Late October
Where: Hiroshima City, in Chuo Park and around Hiroshima Castle
What: Food, and lots of it! This festival features hundreds of food vendors serving up all kinds of Japanese cuisine as well as international dishes. Oh, and enormous, dripping, juicy hunks of meat being cooked over a spit. Don’t miss it.
Momiji Matsuri (Maple Leaves Festival)
When: Late October
Where: Akiota-cho, at the main entrance of Sandankyo Gorge
What: Fall foliage and kagura dancing. To get there from Hiroshima Bus Center, take a bus bound for Sandankyo and get off at Sandankyo.
Kameyama Shrine Festival
When: October 9-10
What: This is Kure’s oldest festival. It is commonly called the “Crowded Festival” because the crowd is so heavy that if you follow the stream of worshipers, you will automatically pass in front of the deity and complete worship, whether you wanted to or not. During this event you can witness a battle scene between demons and a group of people carrying a portable shrine that represents the forces of good.
Bamboo Lantern Festival
When: End of October
Where: Takehara City, in Little Kyoto
What: Around Halloween, the city of Takehara, and in particular its Little Kyoto section, comes alive in the glow of thousands of carved bamboo lanterns similar to Jack-o-lanterns. The flickering lanterns create a lovely fall atmosphere at night. Visitors can enjoy food vendors and shamisen performances. To get there from JR Takehara Station, walk straight under the shopping arcade. When you come to the fork, turn right and keep heading northeast. There will be lots of people and bamboo lights to follow.
Betcha Matsuri (Crying Baby Festival)
When: Nov. 3
What: According to the official Onomichi website, “This festival is said to have its origins in an attempt to ward off the plague during the Edo Era (17th to 19th centuries). Dancing to the beat of music played on drums and bells, young men wearing comical masks or lion costumes run through the city streets, chasing the children there, and hitting them on the head or body with bamboo whisks. The children thus “beaten” are then said to be safe from illness or disaster for the coming year. Even though they may be frightened, toddlers are held by their parents and subjected to a “thrashing”, all in good fun. Within Hiroshima Prefecture, this festival is unique and has been designated an Intangible Folklore Cultural Property.” All in good fun, but watch out you don’t get hit by those pesky whisks!
When: Mid to late November
Where: Hiroshima City
What: Ebisu Shrine’s November festival marks the arrival of winter in Hiroshima. This festival is dedicated to the deity of commerce, Ebisu. Many food stalls and vendors will be set up. Festivities take place around the Hondori shopping street, Ebisu Shrine and the Ebisu-cho area behind Hiroshima City’s Tenmaya Department Store.
Chinka-sai (Fire Subduing Festival)
When: Dec. 31
Where: Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima
What: Say a blazing farewell to the old year and bring in the new one on Miyajima. At 6 p.m., there is a frenzied celebration during which men try to swipe pieces from a large bonfire while trying to dodge police. Then they work together to swing a giant flaming pole in a very dangerous manner. See a video of the festivities at http://www.miyajima-wch.jp/dlib/saiji/10.mov. Later in the evening, many worshippers flock to Itsukushima Shrine and climb Mt. Misen to watch the first sunrise of the New Year.