The last of the cherry blossoms are now just a fleeting memory, trampled as they are deep into the dirt. This post-sakura life can feel like a bit of a seasonal hangover. With Golden Week behind us and long summer evenings ahead — cheer up! — there’s still plenty to look forward to.
The coming of summer means that it’s time to get ready for matsuri (festival) season, some of the most vibrant and colorful months of the year here. Age-old live music, dancing, drinking, entertainment, fascinating cultural quirks, fireworks, spirituality, and a whole lot of incredible food — it’s fair to argue that Japan’s festivals are some of the greatest in the world. They’re also one of the best ways to get up close and personal with a community, its traditions and most especially — its people.
Beginning now as the days get warmer and longer, and into winter, here are some Japan’s most unusual, unique and unmissable Japanese matsuri.
1. Hakata Gion Yamakasa, Kyushu (July 1 to 15)
Running throughout the first two weeks of July, the Hakata Gion Yamakasa’s biggest highlight is actually its close: a float-dragging time trial that takes part in the very, very early hours of the morning. During the event, before the sun rises, teams start to race in five-minute intervals. Although it’s early, the streets rapidly fill up with spectators, buzzing with the energy and excitement of the race. Throughout the week leading up to the event, teams put on practice time trial style races, giving spectators plenty of opportunity to check out the show.
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