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Travel Hacks: Your guide to Japanese Festivals

21st May 2019
Japan is currently one of the most popular destinations for Kiwi travellers! This popularity is only set to increase as Japan prepares to host the Rugby World Cup in September and Tokyo 2020 Olympics next July. 
If you're heading to Japan, why not make the most of the beautiful country by immersing yourself in local culture and attending a festival. A festival is guaranteed to amplify your Japanese experience and leave you with some unforgettable memories. To prove it, we've compiled a list of 10 of Japan’s most popular festivals covering culture, food and music. 
You’ll need some Japanese Yen to make the most of your trip, so don't forget to visit your local Travel Money NZ store before you leave. Here you can grab plenty of cash, as well as load up your Cash Passport to make sure you’ve got all bases covered. 

Cultural Festivals


Where: Depends on the region
When: Depends on the region
What: 'Matsuri' is the traditional name given to local festivals that celebrate and offer thanks to a shrine's deity. This is the only time when the 'Kami' (divine being) leaves the Shinto shrine and is paraded around the streets on a 'Mikoshi' (sacred float). 
These festivals are bright, colourful and loud, accompanied by processions, dramatic performances, sumo wrestling and feasting. The location and date are different for every region so if you happen to be in town when a Matsuri is being held take to the streets and witness a cultural phenomenon that only takes place once a year.

Sapporo Snow Festival 

Where: Sapporo, Hokkaido
When: 4th -11th February 2020 
What: A tradition for over 60 years, the Sapporo snow festival is held over a week each year and attracts over 2 million visitors. Admire snow sculptures in Odori park that measure up to 25 metres high. There are a further 100 ice sculptures at the Susukino site, and three different types of snow slide at the Tsu dome location. 


Cherry blossom festivals 

Where: Nearly every region of Japan
When: In Tokyo usually between the last week of March and the first week of April
What: Bring in spring and experience Hanami, a cherry blossom viewing party that takes place as the flowers bloom. Join the locals and flock to witness the landscape transform into magical hues of pink while enjoying picnics, BB Q's and drinks under the falling petals. It's recommended to research the location and associated peak blooming forecasts before booking a trip as they only bloom for two weeks. 

Omagari National Fireworks Competition

Where: Along the Omono river in Daisen city
When: Every 4th Saturday of August
What: There's nothing better than a heated competition to decide the top pyrotechnician in Japan. Prepare to witness firework displays that exceed expectations as they illuminate the night sky with a creative spectacle while continuing the legacy of Japan's rich firework culture. There are plenty of firework festivals that take place over the country during summer, so if you're in Japan during this time, check out what firework festivals are happening nearby.

Foodie Festivals

Ramen Expo Osaka

Where: Bankpakukoen Expo Commemoration Park, Osaka 
When: Weekends in December, Friday through Sunday 11 am to 9 pm. 
What: Warm up with a bowl (or four) of this famous Japanese dish at the Ramen expo. Just to clarify we're not talking about those instant noodles and seasoning packets you ate while at university. Instead, expect delicious noodles in a rich broth topped with meat and a soft boiled egg, there are so many variations though so not to worry if this combination isn't for you. 

Furusato Matsuri Tokyo

Where: Tokyo Dome
When: Second week of January 
What: When the best food from all over Japan comes together for one festival, it's a sign that you have to go. Featuring unique entertainment and over 100 varieties of beverages (including local craft beers) there is plenty on offer. You don't have to feel bad for overindulging either as a portion of the funds are donated to disaster relief efforts.  

Saijo Sake Festival

Where: Sanjo Town, Near Hiroshima 
When: The second weekend in October
What: Sip on sake to your heart's content with more than a thousand variations of this iconic rice beer on offer. Just to prepare you, sake is typically quite strong, bottled at around 15% alcohol but this can range from anywhere between 5-20%.  Simply take the sake cup you're handed on arrival and walk from brewery to brewery sampling their best sake. Get amongst the action at the '5000 person Izakaya,' an outdoor style Japanese pub. 

Music Festivals

Fuji Rock 

Where: Naeba Ski Resort
When: 26th-28th July 2019
What: This list wouldn’t be complete without Fuji Rock Festival. Spanning over three days, Fuji Rock is Japan's largest music festival attracting upward of 100,000 attendees. Taking place on the beautiful Naeba ski resort during summer, it's only a 90-minute train ride from Tokyo. There are 7 main stages and multiple minor stages with acts in the line-up for 2019 including The Chemical Brothers, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and SIA. 

Ultra Japan – EDM 

Where: Tokyo
When: 14-15th September 2019
What: As part of the Ultra Music Festival global circuit, the Japanese stop is set to deliver a weekend of incredible EDM. Conveniently taking place in Tokyo, this makes a perfect festival to plan your trip around. Expect performances from all the greatest artists such as David Guetta, Zedd, Tiesto, Alesso and Martin Garrix on the main stage. You can also catch upcoming and local artists on the Ultra park stage. 

Summer Sonic

Where: Zozo Marine Stadium Tokyo & Makuhari Messe Osaka
When: 16th-18th August 2019
What: Offering a combination of genres all the way from rock to pop and everything in between, this festival has something for everyone. Summer Sonic is unique in that it has two venues, one in Tokyo and the other Osaka, yet both locations hold the festival over the same weekend. This is possible by splitting the line-up into half, on day one they play in one place then on day two they swap locations. If you want to see all performances, a 2-day pass is required, but a 1-day pass is also available.   
So many festivals, so little time. If you’re keen to start planning your Japanese festival jaunt, we recommend signing up to Rate Alerts, that way you’ll know when the Kiwi dollar is doing well against the JPY. 
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