Summer in Japan is a great time to witness tradition, culture, and community come together at one of the country's many festivals. As the warm sun blankets the land, vibrant festivals come to life, enchanting locals and visitors alike. From fireworks displays and captivating performances to mouthwatering food and joyful processions, discover the top five summer festivals that showcase the essence of Japanese heritage.
Nagaoka Fireworks, Niigata
Witness a fiery spectacle at Nagaoka Fireworks. Photo credit: © 公益社団法人 新潟県観光協会
Japanese summer is synonymous with spectacular fireworks festivals that draw travelers from far and wide. These dazzling displays, often requiring ticketed entry and reservations, have become iconic.
Nagaoka Fireworks, held annually in Nagaoka, is renowned as one of the country's grandest displays of fireworks. The festival is held in remembrance of World War II victims in Nagaoka and is focused on promoting restoration and peace. It attracts thousands of visitors who gather along the Shinano River to witness the breathtaking pyrotechnic displays.
The festival comprises daytime events, lantern floating, and processions of shrines, and ends with awe-inspiring designs illuminating the night sky. It's a celebration of tradition and innovation, drawing from the country's rich history paired with meticulously choreographed fireworks.
Omagari Fireworks, Akita
Enjoy the mesmerizing display of colors and patterns that set the sky ablaze. Photo credit: © 秋田県大仙市
Held in the mountainous city of Akita, Omagari Fireworks is a festival that captures a more rustic Japanese summer in a magnificent show of pyrotechnic artistry. It features a unique competition of fireworks skill and creativity, showcased by firework artisans from across Japan.
With a history spanning over a century, the Omagari friendly firework feud has become a symbol of excellence in the craft. Spectators are treated to a symphony of colors, intricate designs, and kaleidoscopic explosions that rival any other display of the kind. The experience leaves lasting memories and an appreciation for the beauty and craftsmanship of fireworks.
Stay at Hotel Metropolitan Akita, which has spacious rooms and offers easy access to the city’s best sights.
Nebuta Matsuri, Aomori
Marvel at the impressive floats adorned with handcrafted paper lanterns. Photo credit: ©（公社）青森観光コンベンション協会
Entangled in local folklore, Nebuta Matsuri is an unmissable summer festival held in Aomori, Japan. Famous for its illuminated floats, this lively festival captivates thousands of visitors worldwide.
The highlight of Nebuta Matsuri is the procession of enormous floats adorned with intricately handcrafted paper lanterns depicting mythical figures, historical scenes, and legendary heroes. Accompanied by the beats of taiko drums and traditional music, the procession weaves through the streets creating a spectacle of lights, colors, and sound. The festival exudes a sense of joy, excitement, and community spirit as locals and visitors come together to celebrate Japanese folklore and heritage.
Head back for a restful night at the centrally located Daiwa Roynet Hotel Aomori.
Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, Sendai
Walk streets lined with colorful decorations, streamers, and paper crafts. Photo credit: © 仙台七夕まつり協賛会
The Sendai Tanabata Festival, also known as the Star Festival, is a vibrant celebration steeped in melancholy. It commemorates an ancient Chinese legend featuring the tale of star-crossed lovers Altair and Vega—known as Orihime and Hikoboshi—who are separated by the vastness of the Milky Way. Once a year, on a single magical night, do they unite – the night of the festival.
It’s considered the Tohoku region’s “Three Great Festivals,” and showcases the city's vibrant atmosphere and rich cultural heritage. The festival takes place in early August when the streets come alive with colorful decorations, streamers, and intricate paper crafts. Visitors are immersed in festive ambience as they stroll through bustling food stalls, enjoy traditional performances, and marvel at the ornate and artistic Tanabata decorations. Sendai Tanabata Matsuri is a celebration of wishes, love, and unity, offering a unique blend of excitement, beauty, and cultural significance.
Stay at Hotel Vista Sendai for easy access to public transit that can take you to the rest of the city.
Awa Odori, Tokushima
This dynamic festival combines dance performances with fireworks. Photo credit: © 徳島市にぎわい交流課
The roots of the Awa Odori festival can be traced back to the Bon Odori tradition, part of the Japanese Buddhist “Festival of the Dead.” During this annual event, the spirits of departed ancestors are believed to return to visit their living relatives. Awa Odori emerged from this cultural practice, evolving into a vibrant dance festival that celebrates the spirits of the departed with lively performances and joyful festivities.
Taking place in Tokushima, Awa Odori is celebrated by energetic dance performances and melodic tunes. Participants, wearing colorful yukatas (a type of cotton summer kimono) and straw hats, dance through the streets to the lively beat of shamisen (a stringed instrument), taiko drums, and flutes. The festival attracts both locals and visitors who join in the movements, creating an electric atmosphere filled with revelry.
For a unique stay experience, head to Sunriver Oboke, a charming onsen retreat nestled in the picturesque Oboke Gorge.
Header photo credit: ©（公社）青森観光コンベンション協会, 青森菱友会／製作者 竹浪比呂央