Natsu Matsuri (I): Japanese Summer Festival

Natsu Matsuri (I): Japanese Summer Festival

If you’ve watched Japanese anime, movies, or manga, you are no stranger to the Japanese summer festivals. With beautiful yukata (a kind of kimono), vibrant festivals, 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?

Participant of Natsu Matsuri

There are thousands of festivals a year in Japan. How can there be so many That's because almost every shrine, town, and village has 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. Historically, 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. A kami (Japanese Shinto god) is sometimes carried in a mikoshi (religious palanquin) and the processions are usually 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, a summer festival will have tons of food, games. Here are some things you can expect to see in Japanese summer festivals!


If you walk through a summer festival, you will find many Japanese people dressed in traditional garb - a yukata. This is a type of kimono that is cooler, perfect for the hot weather. Besides the weather, Japanese people love to wear these at summer festivals to get into a festive spirit. However, dressing in yukata is not obligatory. There is no dress code for festivals, so feel free to wear casual clothes. If you want to have an immersive experience, wearing a yukata is a good idea!

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, which include a yukata, a waistband, and a thinner belt. Geta (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.

Shaved Ice with Syrup


Though Japanese people have a sense of what constitutes festival food, most of this food is not exclusive to summer festivals.

  1. Desserts and snacks: candy apple, chocolate bananas, marshmallows, shaved ice with colored syrup, ramune (Japanese soda), and perhaps the most unique one: amezaiku, which is crafted candy that looks like an animal
  2. Grilled food: takoyaki (grilled octopus balls), okonomiyaki (a Japanese-style pancake-like food with ingredients on the inside), yakisoba (Japanese stir-fried noodles), 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 and might take you back to simpler times, if only for a moment.

  1. Kingyo Sukui (Goldfish Scooping): This is one of the most typical games at summer festivals in Japan. The player should scoop as many goldfish into a bowl until their paper scooper is broken. You can bring home the goldfish you win, so make sure you have a good container to place them in.
  2. Super Ball Sukui (Super Ball Scooping): It’s similar to the goldfish scooping game except that the prize is bouncy rubber balls with various colors and designs. Well, those are certainly easier to take home.
  3. Suichuu Coin Otoshi (Underwater Coin Dropping): Throw coins in the bowl or plate in a deep water tank. The more coins you can land in a bowl, the more points you can receive.
  4. Wanage (Ring Toss): To win a prize in this game, toss a ring (usually made of plastic or ropelike material) so that it goes around a target. Usually, there are multiple targets set up, which can vary in size and shape. The most common targets are vertical poles with different point values assigned to them, though sometimes the numbers shown correspond directly to which prize you will receive.
  5. Shateki (Shooting): Shoot the prize down from the rack with an air gun. The ones that you make fall down are yours to keep!
  6. Yo-yo Tsuri (Yo-yo Fishing): Fish rubber balloons that contain water with a paper string with a hook. The balloons can be played as a yo-yo ball.
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