Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festivals in Japan

Spring Beginnings: 6 Must-Visit Spring Festivals in Japan
Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Spring is a season of new beginnings, bringing with it beautiful flowers, comfortable temperatures, and a time of celebration. While most travellers head to Japan in spring to enjoy the cherry blossoms and other flowers, how about checking out a traditional festival and experiencing the rich history and local culture? Let's check out six spring festivals around Japan.

 

Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival | Aomori Prefecture

Beautiful cherry blossom trees at Hirosaki ParkBeautiful cherry blossom trees at Hirosaki Park. | Photo by photoAC

If there’s one spring flower festival you shouldn’t miss, it’s the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (弘前さくらまつり). Hirosaki Park is considered one of the Top Three Cherry Blossom Spots in Japan (日本三大桜の名所)―along with Takato Castle Ruins Park in Nagano Prefecture and Mount Yoshino in Nara―and its scenery is truly incomparable. The park has around 2,600 cherry blossom trees, which have applied apple cultivation techniques to create denser flowers.

 

Cherry blossom carpet at Hirosaki Castle’s outer moatCherry blossom carpet at Hirosaki Castle’s outer moat. | Photo by photoAC

A special sight here is that of the cherry blossom carpet (花筏 hana ikada), which happens slightly after the full bloom period. Cherry blossom petals fall off and accumulate on the still waters of the outer moat to form a pink carpet.

 

Hirosaki Park’s Western Moat during the daytime and night timeHirosaki Park’s Western Moat during the daytime and night time. | Photo by Carissa Loh

Another enchanting sights is the night time cherry blossoms (夜桜 yozakura) around the Western Moat (西濠). Both sides of the moat are lined with cherry blossom trees that form tunnels which you can leisurely stroll under. At night, the reflection of the illuminated cherry blossom trees in the moat is nothing short of magical.

 

Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival (弘前さくらまつり)
Festival Period: 19 April–5 May 2024
Access: Hirosaki Castle Park is a 5-minute walk from Shiyakushomae Bus Stop, which can be reached via the Dotemachi Loop Bus from JR Hirosaki Station (弘前駅).

 

Sendai Aoba Festival | Miyagi Prefecture

Sendai Aoba FestivalSendai Aoba Festival. | Photo by宮城県観光プロモーション推進室

Over in Miyagi Prefecture, the Sendai Aoba Festival (仙台青葉まつり) is Sendai’s second largest festival after the Sendai Tanabata Festival, and is held on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday of May each year. Sendai is known as the “City of Trees” (杜の都 Mori-no-miyako), and has hundreds of beautiful zelkova trees (欅 keyaki) that sprout beautiful green leaves in May.

 

Suzume Odori danceSuzume Odori dance. | Photo by宮城県観光プロモーション推進室

The eve of the festival (宵まつり Yoi Matsuri) on Saturday features exciting activities and the Suzume Odori (すずめ踊り) dance. Suzume Odori is a folk performing art representative of Sendai, and its name comes from the dance moves resembling sparrows (suzume) fluttering. During Yoi Matsuri, around 5,000 performers holding folding fans dance and jump to the music, dancing to the beats of cymbals, drums, and flutes. 

Yamaboko float processionYamaboko float procession. | Photo by宮城県観光プロモーション推進室

The main festival (本まつり Hon Matsuri) is held on Sunday, when yamahoko (山鉾) floats are paraded along Jozenjidori Avenue. These floats can be up to 6m high and weigh up to 6 tons, and are manually pulled by members of the community. Joining the floats are people dressed as samurai warriors, donning armour and marching down the streets, making for a thrilling atmosphere!

 

Sendai Aoba Festival (仙台青葉まつり)
Festival period: 18–19 May 2024
Access: Festivities take place along various locations around Sendai’s city centre. The Suzume Odori dance site is a short walk from Kotodaikoen Station (勾當台公園) on the Sendai Subway Namboku Line, while the Yamaboko display is a short walk from Aoba-dori Ichibancho Station (青葉通一番町) on the Sendai Subway Tozai Line.

 

Sanja Festival | Tokyo

Tokyo's Sanja Festival welcomes up to 2 million visitors each year.The Sanja Festival welcomes up to 2 million visitors each year. | Photo by photoAC

The Sanja Festival (三社祭) is one of Tokyo’s Three Great Festivals (江戸三大祭), along with the Kanda Festival and Sanno Festival. Held over the third weekend of May, close to 2 million visitors come to watch the energetic festivities, which feature around a hundred portable shrines (神輿 mikoshi) being paraded around the streets to bring good luck. 

 

A Mikoshi being paraded at the Sanja FestivalMikoshi being paraded. | Photo by photoAC

The Sanja Festival celebrates the three founders of Sensoji Temple (浅草寺), Tokyo’s oldest temple. These founders are enshrined in the neighbouring Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社). On Friday and Saturday, smaller neighborhood mikoshi are carried through the streets, while Sunday's main festival features Asakusa Shrine's three large, elaborate mikoshi parading through the districts of Asakusa from 6am to 8pm.

 

Large crowds in the evening at Sensoji and Asakusa ShrineEvening crowds at Asakusa Shrine. | Photo by photoAC

The last day of the festival can get especially chaotic, as the mikoshi bearers jostle and bounce the mikoshi vigorously, an act that is believed to generate more good luck. 

 

Sanja Festival (三社祭)
Festival period: 17–19 May 2024
Access: Sensoji Temple is a 5-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Asakusa Station (浅草駅).

 

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Spring Takayama Festival | Gifu Prefecture

Spring Takayama Festival in GifuSpring Takayama Festival. | Photo by 飛騨高山観光コンベンション協会

One of Japan’s Three Most Beautiful Festivals (日本三大美祭), the Spring Takayama Festival (春の高山祭)―also known as the Sanno Festival (山王祭)―is held annually from 14 to 15 April, and celebrates the arrival of spring. Originating in the 18th century, the Takayama Festival is made up of two parts: the Spring Takayama Festival held by Hie Shrine in April, and the Autumn Takayama Festival held by Hachiman Shrine in October.

 

Lanterns are hung on the floats during the night festival in Takayama, GifuLanterns are hung on the floats during the night festival. | Photo by 飛騨高山観光コンベンション協会

The Takayama Festival is known for its float displays (高山の屋台行事), which has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. The 12 floats (屋台 yatai) are displayed throughout the two-day festival along Yasukawa Street near Takayama’s old town district. Aside from the procession and marionette parades, one of the festival’s highlights is the night time festival (夜祭 yomatsuri) on 14 April where 100 lanterns are hung and lit up on each float, and paraded through the city.

 

Spring Takayama Festival (春の高山祭)
Festival period: 14–15 April 2024
Access: The floats are displayed across different locations in Takayama.



Kyoto Aoi Matsuri | Kyoto

Aoi Matsuri in KyotoAoi Matsuri Festival is one of Kyoto’s most important festivals. | Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Held on 15 May each year at Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine, the Aoi Matsuri Festival (葵祭) is one of Kyoto’s top three most important festivals. The festival originated as the Kamo Festival―named after the shrines where it took place―and people performed rites to appease the gods and pray for bountiful harvests in the coming year. 

During the Heian Period (794–1185), when Kyoto was the capital of Japan, the festival incorporated more formal rites and rituals. Most of these rite and rituals have been faithfully continued and observed to the festival today. Now, the festival is known as the Aoi Matsuri due to the aoi (葵 hollyhock) pinned to the attire and carts of the participants.

 

The Aoi Matsuri processionAoi Matsuri’s procession. | Photo by cyesuta (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Aoi Matsuri is known for its long procession that starts at the Kyoto Imperial Palace, passing by Shimogamo Shrine, and ending at Kamigamo Shrine. The procession features men and women dressed in Heian Period attire walking an 8km path. Watching the procession with its detailed outfit and props, you’ll feel like you’ve slipped back in time into the Heian Period!

 

Aoi Matsuri Festival (葵祭)
Festival period: 15 May 2024
Access: The procession can be watched from various points along the route, accessible from Marutamachi Station (丸太町駅), Demachiyanagi Station (出町柳駅), and Kitaoji Station (北大路駅).



Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival | Oita Prefecture

Beppu in a hot spring town in KyushuBeppu is abundant in hot spring water. | Photo by photoAC

Beppu City in Oita Prefecture is well-known for its hot springs (温泉 onsen), and produces the largest volume of hot spring water in Japan. Thus it’s no surprise that the city has a festival celebrating its hot springs: the Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival (別府八湯温泉まつり)!

Beppu has eight different hot spring areas (八湯 hatto), each with different characteristics and therapeutic qualities, making for a varied hot spring experience. A uniquely Beppu festival, the Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival expresses gratitude for the abundance and variety of hot spring water in Beppu, and is held each year starting from 1 April―which is Onsen Appreciation Day (温泉感謝の日) in Beppu―and ending on the following Sunday, creating a week-long bonanza during which many of the city’s hot springs offer free admission. 

 

Mount Ogi on fireMount Ogi on fire. | Photo by ツーリズムおおいた

Other events are also held throughout the week as part of the Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival, such as the Ogi Fire Festival (扇山火祭り), where Mount Ogi is set ablaze, creating a striking sight when viewed from Beppu. The festival signals the arrival of spring, and gives offerings to the gods of the hot springs, who are believed to reside on Mount Ogi.

 

Yubukkake Festival in 2023 | Video by別府八湯温泉まつり実行委員会 on YouTube

The largest event of the Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival is the Yubukkake Festival (湯・ぶっかけまつり), which takes place on the last day. Portable shrines are paraded along the street in front of Beppu Station, with participants sitting atop them splashing hot spring water all round, creating a lively and energetic atmosphere. If you love hot springs, don’t miss this festival!

 

Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival (別府八湯温泉まつり)
Festival period: 1–7 April 2024 (Ogiyama Fire Festival: 2 April, Yubukkake Festival: 7 April) 

 

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Speaking of spring, embrace the season of change with an exciting selection of Japanese snacks by JAPAN RAIL CLUB! Handpicked and curated exclusively for the month of April, this snack box entitled "Spring Beginnings" features a variety of spring-themed snacks, including cherry blossom-flavoured ones like Sakura Karinto by Maker Marui Suzuki, as well as plum favourites like Oranda Senbei Ume & Konbu from Yamagata Prefecture! 

Start your spring right by subscribing to JAPAN RAIL CLUB's Snack Subscription Plan! Use the promo code “SPRING14” at the checkout page by 30 April 2024 to enjoy discounts of up to USD33. Happy Spring!

Meet the author

Carissa Loh

Having visited all 47 prefectures of Japan, Carissa's next goal in life is to ride all of Japan's sightseeing trains and climb all its 100 Famous Mountains. Sounds like a dream? Check back in 50 years.

Hungry for more?

Get on track with our monthly offerings of exclusive snacks from all over Japan!

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February Maker’s Story: Shizuoka-grown Wasabi by Kameya Foods
Sue Lynn

February Maker’s Story: Shizuoka-grown Wasabi b...

Are you familiar with wasabi (わさび)? Made from the Wasabia japonica plant, wasabi or the Japanese horseradish is a unique spice native to Japan and is a staple in Japanese...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

February Maker’s Story: Shizuoka-grown Wasabi b...

Are you familiar with wasabi (わさび)? Made from the Wasabia japonica plant, wasabi or the...

Winter Wonderland: 7 Snowiest Cities in Japan and Must-do Activities
Sue Lynn

Winter Wonderland: 7 Snowiest Cities in Japan a...

Winter season in Japan boasts some of its most amazing and picturesque sceneries, especially in regions lying alongside the Sea of Japan (日本海), otherwise known as Yukiguni (雪国), or Snow...

Dawn Sim Festival

Winter Wonderland: 7 Snowiest Cities in Japan a...

Winter season in Japan boasts some of its most amazing and picturesque sceneries, especially in...

Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to Enjoy in Japan
Sue Lynn

Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to ...

Winter in Japan is not just a season to enjoy snow activities and festivals; it’s also a time to indulge in winter cuisine as Japan is blessed with bountiful harvest...

Wendy Ng Food

Winter Wonders: 8 Winter Foods & Delicacies to ...

Winter in Japan is not just a season to enjoy snow activities and festivals; it’s...

Nuts About Chiba! Exploring Chiba, Peanuts, and Setsubun Culture
Sue Lynn

Nuts About Chiba! Exploring Chiba, Peanuts, and...

Have you been to Chiba Prefecture (千葉県)? Located in the Kanto Region and neighbouring Tokyo on its east, perhaps, unknowingly, you have already stepped foot into Chiba Prefecture. If you...

Carissa Loh Culture

Nuts About Chiba! Exploring Chiba, Peanuts, and...

Have you been to Chiba Prefecture (千葉県)? Located in the Kanto Region and neighbouring Tokyo...

More Than Just Disneyland! Exploring Hidden Gems in Every Corner of Chiba
Sue Lynn

More Than Just Disneyland! Exploring Hidden Gem...

Looking for a short getaway from the bustling crowds of Tokyo? Look no further than the prefecture of Chiba (千葉県). Contrary to the popular belief that “There is nothing much...

Dawn Sim Travel

More Than Just Disneyland! Exploring Hidden Gem...

Looking for a short getaway from the bustling crowds of Tokyo? Look no further than...

Happy Strawberry Day: 5 Must-Try Varieties of Strawberries in Japan
Sue Lynn

Happy Strawberry Day: 5 Must-Try Varieties of S...

Did you know that 15 January is Strawberry Day (イチゴの日 Ichigo-no-hi) in Japan? It comes from a word play on the date (“ichi” = one and “go” = five) and...

Carissa Loh Food

Happy Strawberry Day: 5 Must-Try Varieties of S...

Did you know that 15 January is Strawberry Day (イチゴの日 Ichigo-no-hi) in Japan? It comes...

Ichigo Ichie: Starting the New Year by Embracing Moments in Life
Sue Lynn

Ichigo Ichie: Starting the New Year by Embracin...

As the New Year’s celebrations and confetti settles, we enter the new year with new hopes and wishes. The start of the new year marks a good checkpoint in our...

Wendy Ng Culture

Ichigo Ichie: Starting the New Year by Embracin...

As the New Year’s celebrations and confetti settles, we enter the new year with new...

Seijin no Hi: Exploring Japan’s Coming-of-Age Day
Sue Lynn

Seijin no Hi: Exploring Japan’s Coming-of-Age Day

Seijin-no-Hi (成人の日) or Coming-of-Age Day is an important Japanese National Holiday, observed on the second Monday of January each year. The day serves as a rite of passage, celebrating and...

Carissa Loh Culture

Seijin no Hi: Exploring Japan’s Coming-of-Age Day

Seijin-no-Hi (成人の日) or Coming-of-Age Day is an important Japanese National Holiday, observed on the second...

January Maker’s Story: Chocolates with a Japanese Twist from Edogoshiya
Sue Lynn

January Maker’s Story: Chocolates with a Japane...

"What is a snack that would pair well with Japanese tea and is well-loved by all in Japan?", the makers of Edogoshiya wondered and found themselves in the world of...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

January Maker’s Story: Chocolates with a Japane...

"What is a snack that would pair well with Japanese tea and is well-loved by...

The Wonders of Citrus: 5 Varieties of Citruses Found in Japan
Sue Lynn

The Wonders of Citrus: 5 Varieties of Citruses ...

If you have been to Japan during the colder months between December to February, you will notice the sudden abundance in citruses such as yuzu (柚子・ゆず) and mikan (蜜柑・みかん mandarin...

Sue Lynn Food

The Wonders of Citrus: 5 Varieties of Citruses ...

If you have been to Japan during the colder months between December to February, you...

Ake Ome! Exploring the New Year Celebrations in Japan
Sue Lynn

Ake Ome! Exploring the New Year Celebrations in...

How is the New Year celebrated in Japan?  Let’s take a look at some of the traditions that have been influenced by Shinto, Buddhism, and modern beliefs!

Carissa Loh Culture

Ake Ome! Exploring the New Year Celebrations in...

How is the New Year celebrated in Japan?  Let’s take a look at some of...

Merikuri! Christmas in Japan: Exploring Traditions Old and New
Sue Lynn

Merikuri! Christmas in Japan: Exploring Traditi...

Said to be the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas is a holiday celebrated around the world, known as a time to get together with family and friends, and a...

Carissa Loh Festival

Merikuri! Christmas in Japan: Exploring Traditi...

Said to be the most wonderful time of the year, Christmas is a holiday celebrated around...

5 Must-Visit Ski Resorts To Visit Outside of Hokkaido: Exploring Japan's Best Slopes
Sue Lynn

5 Must-Visit Ski Resorts To Visit Outside of Ho...

Have you ever gone skiing or snowboarding in Japan? In Japan, although skiing as a means of transportation had been around for centuries in communities living in high snowfall areas,...

Carissa Loh Winter

5 Must-Visit Ski Resorts To Visit Outside of Ho...

Have you ever gone skiing or snowboarding in Japan? In Japan, although skiing as a...

December Maker's Story: Arida Mikan from Sowa Kajuen
Sue Lynn

December Maker's Story: Arida Mikan from Sowa K...

December is the month of citrus, including mikan or mandarin oranges from Arida! We caught up with Mr. Ueyama (上山) from Sowa Kajuen from Arida City, Wakayama Prefecture to find...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

December Maker's Story: Arida Mikan from Sowa K...

December is the month of citrus, including mikan or mandarin oranges from Arida! We caught...

December Maker’s Story: Yuzu from Umaji Village in Kochi
Sue Lynn

December Maker’s Story: Yuzu from Umaji Village...

Umaji Village is known as the Village of Yuzu! We had a chat with Mr. Iwasada (岩貞) of Umaji Village Agricultural Co-operative, to find out more about the village of...

Sue Lynn Maker's Story

December Maker’s Story: Yuzu from Umaji Village...

Umaji Village is known as the Village of Yuzu! We had a chat with Mr....

The Star of Japanese Vineyards: Understanding the Appeal of Kyoho Grapes
Sue Lynn

The Star of Japanese Vineyards: Understanding t...

Where do Kyoho Grapes originate from? Japan's love for perfection and uniqueness has led to some incredible creations, and their grapes are no exception. Enter Kyoho grapes (巨峰), star-studded grapes...

Snack Lover Autumn

The Star of Japanese Vineyards: Understanding t...

Where do Kyoho Grapes originate from? Japan's love for perfection and uniqueness has led to...