Summer Festivals in Japan with Kids — What to Know

girl in yukata playing a game at a summer festival in japan

Last Updated on July 9, 2024 by Kay

Summer festivals, called natsumatsuri (夏祭り) in Japanese, are an event that people of all ages across the country look forward to every year. Quiet neighborhoods are transformed into lively places with a variety of stalls selling food and running games, people are dressed in colorful yukata and jinbei, and sometimes you can experience fireworks as well.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that kids in Japan love natsumatsuri, and it’s something many parents look forward to experiencing with their little ones. In fact, in my interviews with new mothers in Japan, many of them stated that what they were looking forward to doing with their children the most was attending a summer festival. And having been to many over the decade that I’ve been living here, both before and after my daughter was born, I absolutely understand what they mean.

Summer festivals have plenty for kids to do and a family-friendly event. However, there are a few things I feel that parents should be aware of before going to a summer festival with their kids.

What to Know When Taking Kids to a Summer Festival (Natsumatsuri) in Japan

girl in a yukata waiting for a train to go to a natsumatsuri in Japan

Here are some essential tips to help you enjoy summer festivals in Japan with your child.

For an overview of summer festivals in Japan, including popular festivals, food, and games, read this article.

Be prepared for the heat

Summers in Japan are very hot and humid, and becoming a little less bearable every year. With this in mind, make sure you take measures to ensure that your child stays cool.

Wear comfy shoes

There’s lots of standing and walking at festivals, so I recommend comfortable footwear.

Although geta (Japanese wooden sandals) complete the look if you’re wearing yukata or jinbei, they can be uncomfortable to walk in, especially for kids.

Wear insect repellent

Be prepared for lots of insects (i.e., mosquitos) at summer festivals that take place near the river, typically ones with fireworks. So make sure you and your child wear insect repellent.

Bring a mat

If you want to take a break with your kids somewhere, or possibly see the fireworks, I recommend bringing a portable mat. These are easily found at convenience stores in Japan or 100 yen stores.

Try to arrive early

The later it gets, the more people arrive at summer festivals. This is because it gets cooler in the evening and, for festivals with fireworks, they don’t have to wait as long.

Of course, with kids, it might be difficult to arrive early if you want to see fireworks because means you’ll be waiting for hours. For example, if the fireworks start at 7:30 PM, people will start saving spots using their mats from early morning, leave, and then come back at around 4-5 PM. But keep in mind that the streets will start getting crowded around this time and it may take time to return to the spot you saved.

If you want to save a spot using a mat, make sure to put something on it as well to distinguish it from others. For instance, a bag with frozen water bottles in it.

I do not recommend leaving any valuables. Japan is a safe country but I have had things stolen before so I never take any chances.

Also note that the later you go, the longer lines will be for food and games. I remember waiting from around 6 PM to almost 7 PM at a LOCAL festival to get kakigori (shaved ice) for my daughter!

Try to leave early

After the fireworks end, everyone starts heading to the train station and it’s extremely crowded. It may take significantly longer than usual to get to the station and get on the train. Trains are also packed, so it’s especially important to keep this in mind if you’re bringing a stroller.

My family tends to leave festivals early, so before the fireworks end. Once when I took my daughter to the Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka, I decided to leave before the fireworks, partly because of the crowds and because she was becoming overheated.

Note where the washrooms are

While walking to the festival location, keep an eye out for washrooms. Sometimes washrooms might be quite far away and you don’t want to waste time looking for one (especially if your kid waits until the last minute to tell you they have to go, like mine does).

Convenience stores are usually a great place to find a washroom, but not every convenience store has one. So I recommend popping in convenience stores along the way and seeing if there’s a washroom for the general public. It’s also a great way to cool down! (I sometimes let my daughter get a treat like ice cream as well and we share it so she’s not too overloaded with sugar.)

Bring snacks for your kids

Although the food at summer festivals is something my family looks forward to, as mentioned earlier, lines can be very long. So I recommend having some snacks ready for your kids just in case.

Pick these up at a convenience store while you scope out the washrooms!

Use your discretion with food from stalls

I love trying all the different kinds of food sold at summer festivals in Japan with my daughter. However, it’s important to be aware that vendors are not required to display allergens.

Furthermore, some festival food like yakitori can be dangerous if a child is walking while eating it. For instance, I heard of a child tripping while eating yakitori and the skewer punctured their mouth.

Although it has never happened to me, I have also heard of cases of food poisoning at summer festivals.

This information is not meant to put you off from attending a summer festival with your kids in Japan, but I feel that every parent should be cautious.

Keep an eye on your kids

Summer festivals in Japan can become very crowded, so make sure you know where your kids are. Hold their hands if possible because it’s easy for them to get lost, especially younger kids.

Cellular reception

As I’ve already mentioned (maybe way too many times), summer festivals can be quite crowded. And as a result, you may start to have spotty cellular reception (or none for that matter). So keep this in mind if you’re using your phone to keep in contact with your kid or spouse.

Bring cash

Many food and game stalls only accept cash, so make sure you have some on hand. Try to break large bills (5000 yen and 10,000 yen) at a convenience store.

There can be pickpockets at summer festivals so don’t keep your wallet in an easy-to-reach place.

Consider wearing yukata or jinbei

To get the full natsumatsuri experience, consider wearing a yukata or jinbei.

Below is a picture of me in a yukata. When it comes to kids, they typically start wearing yukata when they’re around 5 years old since it’s more difficult to put on and walk around in.

author in a pink yukata

Below is a picture of my daughter at age two in a jinbei, which is a two-piece set. Jinbei can be worn from when children are newborns and up! These are much easier to put on and for kids to walk around in.

natsumatsuri summer festival in japan at home

You can purchase jinbei at any children’s store in Japan from around the end of May to around September, although I imagine some tourist spots in places like Kyoto may have shops selling them all year round.

If you would like to rent yukata and jinbei for the entire family, check out the rental shops below.

Yukata Rental Shops in Tokyo

Kimono Miyabi (Asakusa Station Branch)

Yukata Rental Shops in Kyoto

Kimono Miyabi Kyoto

Kyoto Kimono Rental mimosa

Yukata Rental Shops in Osaka

Ouka Kimono

 

Wrap-Up: Japanese Summer Festivals (Natsumatsuri) with Kids

I hope this look at what to know before going to a summer festival in Japan with your kids has been helpful. Hopefully, with these tips, you’ll be prepared and have a wonderful and memorable time with your family.

If you are living outside of Japan or don’t want to go out in the heat and humidity, consider having a natsumatsuri in the comfort of your own home!

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As a small token of my appreciation, I'll also send you a FREE Japanese and English printable to help your little one learn all about words associated with Summer in Japan