What are Natsu Matsuri?

What are Natsu Matsuri?

Jun 13, 2023 Tags 

Natsu matsuri (夏祭り, meaning summer festival), is the general term for all the festivals and events that happen during Japan’s summer season (June to August).

The summer heat doesn’t stop the Japanese from holding their traditional celebrations. Various festivities happen from July through August. Certain events in September are also considered part of Natsu Matsuri.

So if you’re planning to visit the land of the rising sun during its hottest season, you’ll have plenty of sights to see, foods to eat, and activities to enjoy.

Today, we’re going to explore the different events that are considered part of Natsu Matsuri.


Natsu Matsuri: Past vs. Present


Traditional Japanese Summer Festival


In the past, summer festivals were celebrated for religious purposes. Since harvests are mostly done in the summer, festivals are held to invoke divine favor to yield abundant crops. 

One example is the Otaue Rice Planting Festival in Osaka. It is said that a festival of music and dance will improve the vitality of rice crops.

Honoring deities and spirits is also the reason behind Natsu Matsuri. In the past, Japanese people believed that natural disasters were brought about by malevolent spirits. Festivals dedicated to them have been held yearly to appease them.

Yet another reason for festivals in Japan is to pray for preventing diseases. In ancient Japan, Heian-Kyo (Kyoto’s old name) was a small yet populous city. Epidemics often spread during the summer season. Since ancient people believed that diseases are caused by evil spirits, rituals are performed during festivals to satisfy them. Gion Matsuri is one excellent example of such an event.

Presently, these celebrations are conducted to give way for people to spend time with friends and family, relax, and hang out. The events are also dedicated to attracting local and foreign tourists.


The Most Popular Summer Festivals in Japan


There are so many festivals in Japan during the summer. So if you want to experience Natsu Matsuri, here are some events we recommend you start with:




Tanabata Festival


Tanabata (七夕), which is celebrated every year on July 7, is among the most popular festivals in Japan. In fact, many anime have featured it. When you see the characters writing their wishes on a piece of paper and hanging them on the branches of bamboo, the event is none other than Tanabata or Star Festival.

Behind the Tanabata is a story of two star-crossed lovers named Orihime (Vega) and Hikoboshi (Altair). They only meet once a year, on the day of the Tanabata Festival, because the Milky Way separates the two.


Bon Odori


Bon Odori


Bon Odori (盆踊り) happens during Obon, a festival that combines the Japanese Buddhist tradition of honoring the dead and the belief in ancestral spirits

Part of the holidays is the dance performed throughout the country, which is believed to be a way of guiding the spirits during their return and sending them off.

It was a religious event in the past, but nowadays, people dance to make the summer festival livelier and happier.



Tenjin Matsuri


Tenjin Festival

Sugawara no Michizane


Tenjin Matsuri (天神祭) is held in Osaka’s Tenmangu Shrine to honor the god of learning in Shintoism, Sugawara no Michizane. Known as one of the top three festivals in the land of the rising sun, it is held on July 24 and 25 each year.

Tenjin Festival’s highlights are the land and river procession. Both happen on the second day, starting with drummers leading the parade through the streets of Osaka. They are followed by dancers and people in costume playing as characters in the Shinto religion. 

Portable shrines known as mikoshi are loaded onto the boat for the river procession, and the event continues until nighttime. A fireworks display culminates the activity as the mikoshi are brought back to the shrine.


Gion Matsuri


Gion Festival


Gion Matsuri (祇園祭) is a Kyoto festival that runs for the entire month of July. The celebration is hosted by the Yasaka Shrine, which was founded over a thousand years ago. If you want the authentic festival feel, don a yukata as you explore its interesting sights.

Although different events are held during the celebration, Gion Matsuri’s showstopper is the Yamaboko Junko (山鉾巡行), or the procession of floats. This spectacle happens on the 17th of the month.

The procession that happens on the eve of Yamaboko Junko, is called Yoiyama (宵山). It is yet another must-see.


Mitama Matsuri


Mitama Festival


Mitama Matsuri (みたままつり) is part of the Obon holiday. It is the annual event of the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The festival was first celebrated in 1947 and is held yearly from July 13 until July 16. 

What makes this festival beautiful are the 30,000 lanterns displayed within the grounds of the shrine. People can even apply to have their own lanterns lit there. The magnificence of this light display draws 300,000 spectators to the shrine.


Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival


Sumidagawa Festival


Watching fireworks displays is always magical. Witnessing this event in Japan while wearing a yukata even makes the experience authentic. 

During summer, hanabi taikai (花火大会) or fireworks festivals are held, and among the popular events is the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival. The neck-and-neck competitors make it a spectacular scene.

The event, which attracts roughly a million spectators, displays 20,000 fireworks in different shapes, colors, and sizes. Since it’s a marvelous sight, you need to look for spots where you can get the best view.


Awa Odori Matsuri


Awa Odori Festival


Awa Odori is another yearly summer festival that’s part of Obon. The dance event celebrates the return of the spirits of ancestors to this world. The event begins on August 12 and concludes on August 15.

Troupes of dancers called ren (連) perform their own style of the Awa Odori with musicians who play festive, traditional Japanese music.


Aomori Nebuta Matsuri


Aomori Nebuta Festival


The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri is a vibrant and spectacular summer festival held annually in Aomori City in northern Japan. The festival takes place from August 2nd to 7th. Every night, gigantic, lighted, paper-mache of popular figures and deities from Japanese folklore and media are paraded on floats, except for the last day, which is held in the afternoon.

The festival concludes with a fireworks display that lasts for a couple of hours. This view is best enjoyed from Aomori Bay Bridge or along the coastline.




Touring Japan during the summer offers an unforgettable experience that goes beyond its breathtaking sights. The country comes alive with vibrant festivals that take place all across its regions, ensuring there's always something exciting happening wherever you go.

From major dance festivals to float parades and fireworks, festivals are an excellent way to experience Japanese culture. Witnessing them is almost like seeing how the country is in the bygone era as a lot of these celebrations are already centuries old.

Most of these festivities allow spectators to participate, so when you’re in Japan don’t miss the chance to be a part of these exciting events. And don't forget to prepare your snacks for your festivals: ZenPop got you covered!