Sun, Fun and Festivals: The Top Kansai Summer Spots
As was officially proclaimed by the Japanese Meteorological Office last week, as if several days of blazing sunshine hasn’t told us so already, summer has now arrived in Japan.
It may only be the end of June as I write this, but already, rainy season is ending, the sun is shining, the skies are blue and the beer gardens are calling to me. Yes, dear readers and friends, summer is here in Osaka.
With summer comes a host of events and festivals to look forward to. Perhaps more so than any other individual region of Japan, Kansai has a plethora of festivals and events to make you summer nights go with a swing.
So here today, I present to you the top 8 summer events to enjoy in Kansai:
1) The Umeda Tanabata:
This lesser known festival event actually borrows heavily from the more famous, and much larger Tanabata festival in Sendai, in Japan’s northern Tohoku region. Enjoy looking at the beautiful piñata type decorations and ornamental lanterns made from bamboo leaf, as you sample delicious local seasonal foods from the variety of stalls around the area. The Umeda Tanabata Festival can be found on the ground floor of Umeda Sky Building and runs from Saturday, May 28th until Monday, August 8th.
kid-d on Flickr
2) The Nara Mantoro Lantern Festival at Kasuga Taisha Shrine:
Maybe you have seen lit lanterns before, but have you seen 3,000 at once? Every summer at Nara prefecture's Kasuga Taisha Shrine, at the Mantoro Lantern Festival, 3,000 lanterns grace the shrine with a natural light show. Each one is dedicated to a person or family who donated to the shrine praying for good fortune. Some are hundreds of years old. The lanterns' design and luminescence will give you a cultural experience only Japan can offer. A night through this light event will be a bella noche to remember forever. The festival also has live music and performances. You can see the event Sunday, August 14th and Monday, August 15th from 6.30 pm to 9.30 pm.
Bethany Weeks on Flickr
3) Hydreangea Viewing at Katsuo-Ji Temple:
Perhaps you aren’t really into the hustle and bustle of an all-singing, all-dancing event. Maybe something a bit quieter and more sedate is better suited to you. If that’s the case then you may want to take a trip out from the busy city centre to Mino City and visit Katsuo-Ji Temple.
At Katsuo-Ji, around the banks of the Kannonike Pond are an abundance of beautiful Hydrangea flowers, which reach their full bloom in mid-June, with the onset of the Japanese rainy season. Stroll gently around the temple’s grounds as you see the way the cornucopia of colourful flowers reflect off the still waters of the pond.
Katsuo-Ji Temple is open all year round, however the best time to enjoy the hydrangea blossoms is from late May until the end of this month.
Yasuhisa Yamazaki on Flickr
Chris Gladis on Flickr
4) Aizen Masturi at Shoman-in Temple:
One of the biggest summer festivals in Osaka—also the first. The women of the city show their pride through the streets toward Aizendou Shoman-in in yukata (traditional Japanese clothes) carried around in a hoe-kago (palanquin) smiling and waving gleefully. If you enjoy watching these women celebrate, you will certainly appreciate their bravery doing what looks a little dangerous. With everyone who resides in the area chanting and dancing with lively music, you can see why Osakan people are renown for their enthusiasm. At the temple, there will also be comedy and dancing. One of the highlights is the Buddhist statue Aizenmyouou, the deity of love which is usually kept away from the public until this event.
Aizendou Shoman-in is located in Osaka's Tennoji area and the festival lasts from June 30th to July 2nd.
Jose Cruz on Flickr
5) Tenjin Matsuri:
As far as summer events go, the Tenjin Matsuri is the Jewel in Osaka’s crown. Laying claim to be the world’s biggest boat festival, there’s plenty to see and do at the Tenjin Matsuri. Amidst the firework displays, music and dance, one can also enjoy the very finest street food and drinks Osaka has to offer. Decidedly more boisterous than festivals elsewhere in Japan, the Tenjin Matsuri highlights all that is good, charming and enthralling about the wonderful city of Osaka.
This year’s Tenjin Matsuri takes place in the city’s Tenmabashi district on the weekend of July 24th and 25th.
6) Gion Matsuri:
If Tenjin Matsuri encapsulates all the very best of what’s good about Osaka then it could be said that the Gion Matsuri has a similar impact on Kyoto. In fact, some say that the Gion Matsuri could be Japan’s most famous festival. The festival sees a weeklong series of events take place in and around Kyoto’s Gion District, bookended by two street parades taking place on the 17th and 24th of July.
It’s also worth taking a trip through to Kyoto in the days leading up to the festival.
From July 14th onwards, much of the area is closed off to traffic, allowing a variety of temporary food and drinks stalls as well as other amusing, traditional sideshows to spring up. Also, if you’re one of those people who invested in a nice yukata during one of your touristy impulse buying sessions, this is one of the best times for you to wear it out and about. Indeed if you’re on the streets of Gion for that week in July and you’re not wearing a yukata or kimono, you’re probably more likely to stand out awkwardly from the crowd!
7) Port of Kobe Fireworks Festival:
Coming later on in the summer season, in early August, the Kobe Fireworks festival is a great way to round off your summer festivities. Gather in Kobe’s waterfront Merikan Park to see over 10,000 fireworks being let off in less than one hour, in what is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular shows you will see anywhere this summer!
So, there you have it, 7 of the best from Kansai. How many will you make it to this year?