10 Best Festivals in Japan in April

inuyama festival japan Events
Bariston, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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Misty Fujii is a Canadian who moved to Osaka, Japan, in 2019 and married her Japanese sweetheart. In 2022, they had a baby and moved to Fukui for the clean country air. She is a DJ who teaches English part-time and writes to share Japan with the world. She gets excited about collecting vintage vinyl records, food from all countries, travelling, and renovating her traditional Japanese house.

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Spring is in the air, and with it comes beautiful weather, cherry blossoms, and, of course, festivals! For all those reasons and more, April is one of the most popular months for travelers to visit Japan, so if you happen to be here during spring, why not check out some of the many events? From hot springs to parades, here are 10 of the best festivals in Japan in April! 

1. Inuyama Festival

Bariston, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The castle town of Inuyama in Aichi Prefecture hosts the festival of Haritsuna Shrine, where the Ubusunagami (guardian deity of one’s birthplace) is enshrined. With origins going back to 1635, the festival’s highlight is a parade featuring 13 historic floats making their way down a beautiful cherry blossom-lined street. Each float has three levels and brilliant karakuri puppet shows. At night, the floats are lit up gloriously with lanterns and are once again put on parade. The climax of the festival is when donden takes place. This is when the men maneuvering the 5-ton floats lift them off the ground to change directions, and this feat is rewarded with excited cheers from the audience. 

When: April 6-7, 2024

Website: Inuyama Festival

2. Ushibuka Haiya Festival

Spring is welcomed with a lively festival at the port town of Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture. Traditionally, Ushibuka women would sing the haiya (south wind) melody to welcome incoming ships, and these folk songs spread across the country to be sung during celebrations. For three days, the entire Ushibuka community is filled with haiya tunes as people of all ages dance through the streets, singing the sea shanty of Japan. While you’re there, you can join in on the dancing, see the fishing boat sea parade, and taste fresh seafood. It is the perfect festival to immerse yourself in Japanese tradition and culture. 

When: April 19, 20, 21

Website: Ushibuka Haiya Festival

3. Kanamara Festival

Adam Lederer, (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), via flickr

Known as the “Festival of the Steel Phallus”, or simply “the penis festival”, this is by far one of Japan’s most unique and quirky events. People celebrate the penis with decorations, souvenirs, and snacks in phallic shapes, and there’s a parade featuring three penis shrines, including the famous pink penis named “Elizabeth”, carried by members of the transgender community. According to one legend, the Shinto goddess Izanami was saved by a blacksmith after giving birth to a fire god, and the deities of miners and blacksmiths are now revered at Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, where this festival takes place. It’s said that praying here brings good fortune in marriage, fertility, childbirth, and safe sex. The festival also donates to HIV research. 

When: April 7, 2024

4. Takayama Festival

Takayama matsuri
Impressive floats are paraded through town

Ranked one of the most beautiful festivals in Japan, this biannual event held in Gifu Prefecture is truly a sight to behold. The festival is also known as the Sanno Festival and takes place at Hie Shrine in the southern part of Takayama’s old town. While this spring festival is to pray for a good harvest, it’s also a perfect opportunity to showcase the folk art traditions of this town. You can admire the craftsmanship of the colorful and ornate yatai (floats) displayed during the festival, complete with karakuri mechanical doll performances inside the multi-tiered floats. You can also witness a portable shrine containing a Shinto deity – the festival is the only time it leaves the main shrine. 

When: April 14 and 15

Website: Takayama Festival 

5. Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival

Beppu Onsen Oita
Beppu is also known as Japan’s hot spring capital

This festival is every onsen lover’s dream! Beppu in Oita Prefecture boasts the largest amount of hot spring water in the world, and to appreciate its rich waters, bathers can enjoy many of the onsen for free during this festival. When you aren’t busy soaking in the thermal waters, there are performances, traditional dance, a parade, and portable shrines to be enjoyed. The highlight of the festival, the “Hot Water Bukkake”, takes place at Beppu Ekimae Odori and is an interactive event of the festival where revelers get splashed with water while portable shrines are paraded around.

When: April 1-7, 2024

Website: Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival 

6. Nagahama Hikiyama Festival

lensonjapan, (CC BY 2.0), via flickr

Children’s kabuki takes center stage at this UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage event in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture. The festival began over 400 years ago to celebrate the first son of warlord Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who spread his wealth amongst the townspeople in honor of his son’s birth. Kabuki theater, a classical form of Japanese dance drama, is usually performed by adults in extravagant costumes and makeup. At this particular festival, however, children aged five to twelve entertain the crowds with their theatrical skills. The performances take place on incredible two-story hikiyama, wooden floats with intricate details, which are paraded through the streets along with stages and dressing rooms. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to try Nagahama’s signature dishes such as mackerel somen, and yakisaba somen where sweet and sour fish is stewed with delectable noodles. 

When: April 9 to 17 (kabuki performances April 13 to 16)

Website: Nagahama Hikiyama Festival

7. Cherry Blossom Viewing Festivals (all over Japan)

Sakura cherry blossom festival
Enjoying the cherry blossoms from your picnic blanket is a very Japanese spring activity

The pinnacle of spring in Japan is the cherry blossoms! Symbolizing the impermanence of beauty, they are one of the most iconic tokens of Japan. People gather to picnic under the delicate pink flowers, an activity also known as hanami, to celebrate spring together with friends and family. The sake flows freely, there are often events like tea ceremonies taking place, and food stalls selling spring-themed food and drinks.

When: March to May, depending on location
Check the blooming dates and the best viewing location here

8. Kamakura Festival

Yuki Shimazu, (CC BY-SA 2.0), via flickr

Beginning with a dance that tells a tragic story and ending with an exciting horseback archery tournament, this week-long festival in Kanagawa Prefecture is a fun and immersive way to celebrate Kamakura and the samurai spirit. The festival’s main events take place at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and can draw a large crowd, especially for the opening and closing performances. The first Sunday is when the “Shizuka no Mai” dance happens, telling the tale of Lady Shizuka, who was in love with a warlord and captured by his rival, resulting in her death. The final event on the following Sunday allows spectators to witness the yabusame tournament of horseback archery. This daring skill of shooting an arrow at a target while on a horse galloping at full speed is a thrilling close to this bustling festival. 

When: From the second Sunday to the third Sunday of April

Website: Kamakura Festival 

9. Shingenko Festival

江戸村のとくぞう, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever wanted to be surrounded by samurai or dreamed of becoming one yourself? Celebrate Takeda Shingen, one of Japan’s most famous and influential daimyo, with a large gathering of samurai re-enactors in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture. The festival holds the world record for the largest group of samurai and features a parade with over 1000 people in costume. The most serious patrons can even request in advance to join a reenactment of the battle of Kawanakajima, a mission that is thoroughly rehearsed in the months leading up to the festival. If participating in the battle isn’t your cup of tea, you can always play “spot the general” as you try to ID each of the twenty-four generals in their distinctive attire – like a real-life “Where’s Waldo” game. 

When: Usually in April but since the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival dates may change to October
*The dates for 2024 haven’t been confirmed yet

10. Yayoi Festival

KimonBerlin, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Historic Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture shines with the beauty of spring during this festival. The 1200-year-old festival takes place at Futarasan-jinja Shrine, where attendees celebrate spring and pray for good fortune. On the final day, extravagant flower floats are paraded through town, and visitors can try carrying them if they wish, making it a very hands-on experience. By night, the floats glow in the light of lanterns while the sound of drums and flutes fills the air. You’ll also notice many people wearing pink, representing the most iconic sign of spring: the cherry blossoms. 

When: April 13 to 17

Website: Yayoi Festival 

These festivals invite you to welcome the spring in Japan and offer unique sights and experiences. They are the perfect way to dive into Japanese culture during a spring trip – which ones call out to you? 

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