Riveting October Festivals in Japan

For most Japanese, religion is a combination of elements from various religions known as Shinbutsu shūgō (神仏習合 amalgamation of buddhas and kami).  In 1886, the Shinto and Buddhism Separation Order officially ended the syncretic practices of religion known to Japanese, but they are still observed. Though Shinto and Japanese Buddhism are officially considered two separate faiths, they are more of a single and rather complex religion. Aside from Shinto and Buddhism, some Japanese practice other minority religions such as Islam, Christianity Sikhism, and Hinduism.

Almost every shrine in Japan is revered with a celebration (matsuri), and countless shrines are all around the country. Most festivals are celebrated every year to honor a seasonal historic event or a shrine’s deity.  There are also other festivals that are not related to any religion yet are just as exciting.  Each month holds a celebration in Japan, and October has several festivals to look forward to.

Nagasaki Kunchi –  a 3-day autumn festival with traditional and historical roots over 350 years old, held at Suwa Shrine. The festival is celebrated each year beginning on October 7. The highlight of the festival is the Hono-Odori  where different towns around the area take turns in performing traditional dances. Floats or Chinese boats on wheels add spectacle to the already impressive dance performances.

Nagasaki Kunchi float. | Julian


Marimo Matsuri – an event for a cause: to conserve the endangered marimo algae of Lake Akano in Hokkaido.  It takes over 100 years just for 10 centimeters of natural marimo algae to grow. Lake Akano takes pride in having the largest in the world and is designated as Special Natural Monuments.

Marimo algae. | mobile_gnome

The festival is usually held in early October for three days.  Lake Akano and marimo are a great part of the culture of the indigenous Ainu people of Japan. The ceremony observed in the conservation efforts are in strict accordance with Ainu traditions.

Kurama no Hi-Matsuri – a festival held at Yuki-jinja Shrine in Kyoto every October 22.  The celebration involves the re-enactment of the scene where the deity of Kurama is received by the shrine.

Pine torch for the Kurama no Hi-Matsuri. | fry_theonly

When evening arrives, watch fires called kagabiri are lit in front of the houses in the area. Festival goers also light their own pine torches and parade all night announcing the start of the matsuri. There are 3-meter tall watch fires along the streets and about 250 pine torches that light the streets. It’s truly a beautiful spectacle to behold.