If you can’t get enough of Japanese culture, then festivals (matsuri) are the best events you could experience in Japan. Many festivals in Japan feature grand firework displays and processions of beautiful ornate floats. They have an abundance of music and more food options than you can ever hope to eat in a lifetime. The purpose of these gatherings ranges greatly from religious festivities to celebrations of harvest, and many more in between. Festivals that take place during the summer in Japan often include parades with a variety of music and dancing. Osaka summer festivals are of course no different in this sense. Through attending a festival in Osaka, you can immerse yourself into Japanese life and culture. Do this and you can truly experience firsthand what this beautiful city has to offer.
So, which festivals in Osaka are worth paying a visit to in the summer months? The following list includes the dates of some of the best festivals in Osaka and the surrounding area. These festivals take place all throughout the summer (for 2020 festivals may be postponed due to Covid 19). No matter what time you plan to visit Osaka, there will be a festival happening for you to enjoy.
OSAKA FESTIVAL #1 AIZEN FESTIVAL (JUNE 30TH-JULY 2ND)
The first festival that you should pay a visit is the Aizen Festival. It is among the oldest of all festivals in Japan. Japanese people have celebrated it for more than 1,400 years. It takes place at the Aizendo Temple (also known as Shoumanin Temple) in Osaka. The dates for this event are from June 30th until July 2nd of every year. In that time, a series of parades and events take place. On June 30th the famous Hoekago Parade leads its procession through Osaka. This parade begins near Abeno Station and ends at the Aizendo Temple. The Hoekago Parade traditionally would consist of a procession of beautiful geisha riding upon hoekago, which are special rolling carts. In the present day, the procession of hoekago still occurs. However, instead of geisha seated upon them, there is now a screening process that specially selects women for the position.
Another event that takes place during the Aizen festival is the Nagoshi no Harae Festival. This occurs at the Aizendo Temple on the same day as the Hoekago Parade on June 30th. The Nagoshi no Harae Festival is not specific to Osaka, it actually occurs around many different Shinto shrines around Japan. The purpose of the festival is to purge oneself of sin and to wish for good health. If you have a keen eye for Japanese culture and religion, you might have noticed something odd about this festival. The Aizendo Temple is a Buddhist temple, but the practice of Nagoshi no Harae is actually a Shinto practice. It is strange but unique that the Aizendo Temple would hold this festival there. If you're interested in experiencing a mixture of these two religions here in Osaka, this festival is a good place to start.
OSAKA FESTIVAL #2 TENMANGU TANABATA FESTIVAL (JULY 7TH-JULY 10TH)
The next stop on our list of Must-See festivals in Osaka is the Tenmangu Tanabata Festival. The actual date of Tanabata is a national Japanese holiday that takes place on July 7th of every year. The purpose of this festival is to celebrate the meeting of two ancient star-crossed lovers, the deities Hikoboshi and Orihime. They only meet once every year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the year. Orihime and Hikoboshi represent the stars Vega and Altair. The Milky Way separates these two beings on every day of the year except one. Music and dancing mark this holiday, as well as wearing beautiful yukata and watching the fireworks at nightfall. These activities are available on this date no matter where you go in Japan. However, there is something special about the Osaka Tenmangu Tanabata Festival that is worth mentioning.
On the night of July 7th, the Okawa River in Osaka is turned into a beautiful Milky Way. It is lit with beautiful glowing LED lights that float down the river. You can experience this beauty in a few different ways. The cheapest option would be to pay to enter the viewing area. This costs ¥1,500 if you purchase a ticket on the day of the event. The other option would be to take a Tanabata cruise down the Okawa river. This is highly recommended because you could enjoy the beautiful lights up close and perhaps enjoy a lovely meal. You might even be able to see some fireworks from your cruise, too. This would cost you though, at about ¥15,000 per person. If you want more from your Tanabata experience, we recommend that you pay Osaka a visit during the Tanabata Festival!
OSAKA FESTIVAL #3 KISHIWADA PORT FESTIVAL (JULY 24TH)
The third festival on our journey through Osaka summer festivals actually takes us outside of the city of Osaka. For this festival we will travel into the nearby bay city of Kishiwada. If you’re willing to spend about an hour to get there by train from Osaka station, Kishiwada is a beautiful seaside city! You could easily spend a day exploring it. The Kishiwada Port Festival (also known as the Kishiwada Minato Matsuri) takes place on the fourth Saturday of July every year. This year in 2020 the festival takes place on July 24th. The Kishiwada Port Festival is most famous for its impressive fireworks that last for more than 10 minutes. Japanese fireworks are beautiful to begin with, but this display lights up the night sky like no other. This festival is a must see for any firework enthusiast.
Of course the fireworks aren’t the only attraction of the Kishiwada Port Festival. Like many other summer festivals in Japan, this is a wonderful time to put on your best yukata and enjoy the many food stalls and games. You can try food of all flavors and enjoy game stalls that you can play to win a prize. While this festival may not be right inside of Osaka, the short train ride to Kishiwada is definitely worth it. If you're interested in seeing some of the best fireworks in the country while enjoying some food and games at the same time, hop on that train and come down to Kishiwada Port on July 24th of 2020.
OSAKA FESTIVAL #4 TENJIN FESTIVAL (JULY 24TH-JULY 25TH)
The next festival on our list is one of the most popular festivals in all of Japan. The famous Tenjin Festival symbolizes the union of water and fire. This is shown by the parade of boats gliding down Okawa River with fireworks exploding overhead. This festival takes place on the 24th and 25th of July every year. Most of the celebrations are actually held on the second day, the 25th. The Tenjin Festival (or Tenjin Matsuri) is celebrated to honor the god of learning, Sugawara Michizane. This festival has taken place every year since the 10th century and has become one of the most celebrated festivals in all of Japan. Some events that take place during the Tenjin Festival are the land parade, the water parade, and the fireworks.
The most exciting parts of the festival begin in the afternoon of the second day of the festival. This is where the land parade begins. The land procession begins at the Tenmangu Shrine and travels through the streets of Osaka city. There are ceremonial floats accompanied by drummers with red hats, dancers, and festive music. These floats spend hours traveling through the streets of Osaka until they reach the Okawa River. Once they reach the river, the procession parades down the river on boats. As the drummers continue to play their festive music and the dancers continue to dance, a grand firework display occurs overhead. These fireworks are impressive in all of the glory of Japan, adding to the beauty of the festival and creating a truly unique experience.
OSAKA FESTIVAL #5 SUMIYOSHI FESTIVAL (JULY 30TH-AUGUST 1ST)
The fifth festival that you have to check out in Osaka is the Sumiyoshi Festival at Sumiyoshi shrine. It is one of the largest festivals that take place during the summer in Osaka. The dates of this festival are July 30th until August 1st of every year. The main purpose of the festival is to function as a ceremonial cleansing. The main event of the Sumiyoshi Festival (or Sumiyoshi Matsuri) is the Nagoshi Harai Shinji, which takes place on the first day. Nagoshi Harai Shinji is a Shinto practice said to bring wealth and good health for the rest of the year. Women and children will wear traditional Muromachi period dresses and walk through Chinowa (a ring made of straw).
Another event takes place on the last day of this festival, August 1st. On this day a large portable shrine (also called Mikoshi) will begin its parade. The Mikoshi will parade from the Sumiyoshi Shrine all the way to the Shukuin Tongu Shrine. The largest Mikoshi weighs more than two tons and requires the power of several people to lift it! This parade includes several men carrying the Mikoshi upon their shoulders parading through the streets of Osaka. This practice brings a large crowd of people who follow along on the way to the Shukuin Tongu Shrine. Watching the large group of people lift the two ton Mikoshi is a sight to see. You can watch it travel across Osaka as you enjoy an array of food, drinks and dancing along the way.
OSAKA FESTIVAL #6 KISHIWADA DANJIRI FESTIVAL (SEPTEMBER 14TH-SEPTEMBER 15TH)
Our last stop on our Osaka festival journey brings us back to the city of Kishiwada. This time we will be talking about the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival. This festival is a delightfully upbeat! It contains wooden floats and dancing that carries us from the summer months to autumn. This festival occurs in the last few days of summer or the first few days of Autumn every year. This year it is occurring at the end of summer on September 14th-15th of 2020. The Kishiwada Danjiri Festival is a celebration with large wooden carts (Danjiri) that are expertly crafted to look like shrines or temples. This practice is meant to be a celebration to wish for a successful autumn harvest. This festival is thought to be one of the wildest festivals in all of Japan. It is the perfect opportunity for attendees to prove their strength and courage to the crowd.
The main event of the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival is of course the parade of the Danjiri through Kishiwada. But this procession is not like other festivals that you may have seen around Osaka or around Japan. The processions of all of the festivals discussed in this article are slow, purposeful journeys through the city. The Danjiri Festival, however, includes floats pulled through the streets at very high speeds. This is most certainly thrilling! If the exciting music and the break-neck speeds of the floats is more your style, you absolutely can’t miss the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival.
If you find yourself in Osaka this summer, you will certainly be able to find a great festival here. Watch the Hoekago Parade of the Aizen Festival in June. Cruise down Okawa River and watch the beautiful lights that shine like the milky way on Tanabata. Watch the beautiful fireworks in Kishiwada Port. Sing and dance with the processions of the Tenjin Festival at the end of July. Start off August of 2020 with the Sumiyoshi Festival, or end your summer with the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival. No matter what month you’re visiting, you can find a festival in Osaka to immerse yourself in. The festivals in this list are some of the most popular in Osaka. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t other amazing festivals to check out. There is a festival happening every week during the summer, so come see what you can find!
Due to COVID-19, it is possible that many of the events in this article may be cancelled, reduced, or postponed. At the time of the publishing of this article, all of the events are still happening as planned. For everyone's safety, there is a chance that the 2020 summer festivals may not be as grand as the past. If this happens, don’t fret-- because all of these festivals will be happening again next year in 2021. Some of the dates for the festivals are the same every year, but some of them do change. Always do your own research about the festivals you want to attend if you miss out this year. These festivals are beautiful experiences, but the most important thing to do right now is stay safe and stay healthy.
Want to know more about the history of Osaka festivals? Check out these sources for more!