10 Best Festivals in Japan in December 2023

chichibu night festival Events
ちちびあん, (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons
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Writer’s profile

Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture, and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.

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While temperatures drop dramatically and daylight becomes scarce, Japan makes sure there’s still plenty of ways to enjoy the chilly months with its many winter festivals and events. Immersing yourself in the culture and festivities while munching on some delicious oden and hot sake, is sure to warm you to the core! In this article we will outline 10 of the best December festivals for you to visit during your winter trip to Japan.

1. Chichibu Night Festival (Yomatsuri)

chichibu night festival
ちちびあん, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chichibu Night Festival is the most famous winter festival in Saitama Prefecture’s Chichibu area. It is one of the three major hikiyama festivals in Japan, along with the Gion Festival in Kyoto and the Hida Takayama Festival in Gifu, and its history goes back more than 300 years. After the sun sets and the stars come out on the night sky over Chichibu, several gorgeous floats adorned with flickering lanterns are carried through town by the locals.

Dates: December 2 – 3

Official website: Chichibu Night Festival

2. Ako Gishisai Festival

Corpse Reviver, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Ako Gishisai Festival is the largest festival in Ako, Hyogo Prefecture, and is held annually on December 14. The festival commemorates the legend of “Chushingura”, a story popularly played out as a kabuki act, and has been celebrated in Ako for more than 100 years. The highlight of the festival is the procession of 47 samurai in full attire, which is quite a sight to behold.

Date: December 14

3. Akibasan Fire Festival

Akiba Shrine in Hamamatsu City, Shizuoka Prefecture, hosts a winter festival every year on December 15 and 16. On the second night, three priests perform a bow dance, a sword dance, and an impressive fire dance during which the priests hold and swing lit torches. In doing this, they pray for the extinguishing of fires, safety of the home, and good fortune in general.

Dates: December 6th, 3pm-8pm

Official website (only in Japanese): Akibasan Fire Festival 

4. Asakusa Kannon Hagoita-Ichi

The lavishly decorated hagoita are said to ward off evil spirits

Hanetsuki is a Japanese game similar to badminton which is traditionally played during the New Year holidays. What you need to play this game is the hagoita: a flat, board-like tool which holds auspicious meaning and is said to ward off evil spirits. During the Asakusa Kannon Hagoita-Ichi in mid-December, exquisitely crafted hagoita decorated with faces of Japanese dolls or celebrities are sold at Senso-ji Temple in Tokyo and make for great souvenirs to take home.

Dates: December 17 – 19

Official website: Asakusa Kannon Hagoita-Ichi

5. Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri

Lovelin6th, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kasuga Taisha, the pride of Nara Prefecture, lays grounds to Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri every year in mid-December, a festival with a very long history of approximately 890 years. The parade of people dressed in costumes from the Heian and Edo periods is a particularly memorable event that always attracts many spectators.

Dates: December 15 – 18

Official website: Kasuga Wakamiya Onmatsuri (Japanese only)

6. Sekino Boroichi 

Enjoy a steaming bowl of motsu nabe at this lively festival

The most famous festival held in December in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward, is Sekino Boroichi. Held over two days from December 9 to 10 each year, approximately 300 stalls line the streets around the local Honryuji Temple on the days of the festival. “Boro” means “tattered clothes” in Japanese, and the festival is said to have been named in this way due to the fact that rags and old clothes were sold in this area back in the day. Enjoy a stroll through the lively festival area while savoring some tasty winter foods such as motsu nabe and oden to stay warm.

Dates: December 9 – 12

7. Ito Onsen Winter Fireworks and Yosakoi Festival

Firework displays are often associated with summer in Japan, but even in winter these spectacular events can be enjoyed in various places. Ito City in Shizuoka Prefecture, famous for its hot springs, hosts a firework display every winter, which attracts many spectators. Around Christmas, a Yosakoi dance is carried out, and visitors can watch the performance against the backdrop of glittering fireworks lighting up the night sky.

Date: December 22

8. Akutai Festival

In Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, a very peculiar festival is held every year. The Akutai Festival is also known as “the swearing festival”, and for good reason since this particular festival is full of abusive language. At first shout, you might think that the locals are fighting with each other, but that’s not the case. Instead, they are walking behind people known as tengu, who are practicing silence and hence will just proceed silently without talking back, no matter what is said. As the tengu make offerings to the 16 temples along their way, the festival participants will start fighting each other to get to the offerings first, since it’s said that whoever gets their hand on them first, will have a happy life. The Akutai Festival is indeed a very unusual one, and well worth seeing.

Date: December 17

9. Echizen Coast Daffodil Festival

Echizen in Fukui Prefecture is known for its delicious Echizen crab, but it is also famous for its beautifully blooming daffodils. In fact, Echizen is one of the places with the most daffodils in Japan, along with Awaji Island and the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. Daffodils are designated as the flower of Fukui Prefecture and Echizen City, truly a local symbol of the area. The Echizen Coast Daffodil Festival, which begins in mid-December every year, is full of events related to this much-loved flower. There are also events where visitors can get their hands on some of the beautiful daffodils, and a free bus that tours the festival area.

10. Daikon-Daki Festival

Daiko daki festival
Not only will daiko-daki – allegedly – bring you good health, it will also warm you up from the inside on a cold winter day

In December, many temples in Kyoto have daikon-daki events, but the most famous one is held at Daihoonji Temple. It is said that you will receive good health by eating the daikon-daki dish, and the gentle flavor and warmth are a perfect match for the cold season.

Dates: December 7 – 8

Which of these 10 exciting festivals will you be visiting during your winter trip to Japan? In recent years, many festivals have been canceled due to the covid-19, so make sure to check the official websites for the latest information. When visiting Japan in December, you can enjoy Christmas-related events and gorgeous illumination displays, but don’t miss out on a more traditional experience by adding one of these fun festivals to your itinerary!

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