Natsu Matsuri (I): Japanese Summer Festival
If you’ve watched Japanese anime, movies, or manga, you must be no stranger to the Japanese summer festivals. With beautiful Yukata (Japanese bathrobe, a kind of kimono), cheerful fairs, and enchanting fireworks, Japanese summer festivals concentrate on the joy and beauty of the whole summer. In Japanese, the summer festivals are called Natsu Matsuri (夏祭り), which is a collective term for all the festivals in summer rather than a specific festival.
What is Natsu Matsuri?
There are thousands of festivals a year in Japan, because almost every shrine, town, and village have its own festival. Summer festivals generally refer to festivals that are held from early July to late August, and there are hundreds of summer festivals nationwide. In history, these festivals mostly originated from religion and were held to pray for a good harvest, family harmony, and business prosperity, to appease the dead, and to ward off bad luck. Traditional summer festivals feature processions and floats. Kami (Japanese Shinto God) is sometimes carried in a mikoshi (religious palanquin) and the processions are accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments.
Nowadays, although summer festivals still have specific focuses, such as honoring Kami or commemorating historical events, most visitors just enjoy it as a grand festival. At the festival, people parade through the streets in traditional costumes, playing traditional instruments, clapping, and dancing. There will be a variety of stalls offering special food and games to entertain people. It can be said that the Japanese summer festival is one of the best ways to experience the history and culture of Japan.
What to Expect in Natsu Matsuri?
As a great event, Natsu Matsuri has many festive food, games, and objects. Here are something you can expect in Japanese summer festivals!
If you walk through the streets of the summer festival, you will find many Japanese people dressed in traditional costumes. Japanese people love to wear those in summer festivals to feel the holiday spirit. However, dressing in Japanese traditional costumes is not obligatory. There is no dress code for the festival, so feel safe to wear casual clothes. If you want to have an immersive experience, wearing the costume is a good idea!
The clothes worn at the summer festival are called Yukata, which is a type of kimono but cooler. When summer festivals come around, shopping malls will offer Yukata in a variety of patterns. Although a Yukata is just a piece of clothing, many places provide Yukata sets, including Yukata, a waistband, and a thinner belt. Getas (traditional Japanese wooden sandals), a kinchaku (traditional Japanese drawstring bag), and a fan will complete your look. Ladies can also add floral decorations to their hair.
Though called festive food, most foods are not exclusive to summer festivals. However, they are more attractive and tasty at the festival fairs.
- Desserts: candy apple, chocolate banana, marshmallow, shaved ice with syrup, chilled watermelon, Amezaiku (Japanese candy craft artistry), Ramune (Japanese beverage)
- Snacks: takoyaki (grilled octopus ball), okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake), yakisoba (Japanese stir-fried noodles)
- Grilled food: grilled squid, grilled fish, grilled chicken skewers
There are many traditional games for kids, which can also be enjoyed by adults. Most of them are not complex but can make you enjoy simple pleasures.
- Kingyo Sukui (Goldfish Scooping): This is one of the most typical games at summer festivals in Japan. The player should scoop the goldfish into a bowl constantly until the paper scooper is broken. You can bring home the goldfish you win, so please make sure you have a good container to place them in.
- Suupaa Boru Sukui (Super Ball Scooping): It’s similar to the goldfish scooping game except that the prize is bouncy rubber balls rather than goldfish.
- Suichuu Coin Otoshi (Underwater Coin Dropping): Pitch coins in the bowl or plate in a deep water tank. The more coins land in the bowl, the higher the point is.
- Wanage (Ring Toss): There will be many prized on the ground, such as toys and cups. Some stalls will use wooden sticks with a number to represent the prizes. Toss the rings and you can win the prize if you hit the target.
- Shateki (Shooting): Shoot the prized down from the rack with an air gun. The fallen ones are your trophies!
- yo-yo Tsuri (Fishing yoyo): Fish rubber balloons that contain water with a paper string with a hook. The balloons can be played as a yoyo ball.
- Senbonbiki (lottery game): It’s a chance game. There is a bundle of strings with various prizes attached to the other end. The Player chooses one string from the bundle and pulls. You can keep the prize that moves at the other end.