April Showers Bring Exciting Festivals in Japan

With the highly anticipated spring flowers in full bloom, April is always exciting  in Japan. Here are just some of the festivities in April to cap off the first quarter of the year.

Kamakura Festival, Kanagawa (Second Sunday to Third Sunday of April)

12th century Japan saw Kamakura rivaling Kyoto as it developed into the center of politics and culture. The festival is held at the historic shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. The whole town comes alive with people carrying mikoshi (portable shrines), and street performers play traditional Japanese instruments.

2505369060_45a796717e_zThe main events of the Kamakura Festival are the shizuka no mai dance and the yabusame.  The shizuka no mai dance, performed on the second Sunday, reenacts  the scene of the master dancer Princess Shizuka  as she dances to express her love for the warlord Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune before their enemies. Princess Shizuka is popularly known as a tragic heroine who was held captive by Yoshitsune’s enemy, Minamoto-no-Yoritomo.

Yabusame. | navisan

Her dance angered Yorimoto which led to the imprisonment of Shizuka and the death of her children. The yabusame, an exhibition of traditional samurai skills such as archery on horseback, is held on the third Sunday.

Takayama Festival, Gifu (April 14 and 15)

Takayama Festival is the name for the combined festivals of Sanno Matsuri of spring and the Hachiman Matsuri held at Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine in October. Around a thousand people parade through the streets dressed in traditional Japanese attire from the 15th century, with dancers accompanied by musical performers. It makes you feel like you’ve travelled back in time.

Sanno Matsuri. | Robert Young

Yayoi Festival, Tochigi (April 16 and 17)

Yayoi Festival signals the arrival of spring in Nikko, a city rich with temples and shrines registered as World Heritage sites. The main attraction of the festival takes place on the 17th of April with a parade of floats that go all over town.

Yayoi Festival. | Hetarllen Mumriken

The festival dates all the way back to the 8th century, and current revelers still observe carefully the traditions and rituals of a time long gone.

There are more festivals for the month of April in Tokyo that are equally amazing. It is truly an enriching way to take in the beauty and culture of Japan.