Summer Festivals (Natsumaturi) in Japan: Games, Food, and Fireworks

summer festival (natsumatsuri) in Japan

Last Updated on July 5, 2024 by Kay

One of my favorite things about Japan is summer festivals, called natsumatsuri (夏祭・なつまつり) in Japanese.

The music, colorful yukata and jinbei, and dozens of stalls selling mouthwatering snacks make the atmosphere something you can’t find anywhere else in the world. There’s also something for everyone, including games for kids, making it family-friendly for all ages. And some summer festivals end with a bang — or should I say several with a stunning fireworks display.

In this article, I’ll share what I think everyone needs to know about Japanese summer festivals, including the most popular ones in the country and when they take place in 2024.

If you haven’t attended a summer festival in Japan yet, you’ll want to read this article. And even if you have, you might learn something new.

A Brief Background of Japanese Summer Festivals (Natsumatsuri)

Japanese summer festivals are a time for people to gather together and celebrate in Japan, whether it be honoring ancestors (Bon Odori), praying to Shinto gods for bountiful crops, or dispelling bad spirits and epidemics. It’s also a time for locals to strengthen their bonds with one another, as there are many neighborhood summer festivals throughout Japan.

Depending on the festival, you’ll experience various things. For example, you might see people carrying mikoshi, which is a small shrine that’s carried from one shrine to another by locals chanting “Wasshoi!”.

If you attend a festival during Obon in August, you’re likely to see Bon Odori. This folk dance is performed typically around a yagura, a wooden scaffold, to welcome and honor ancestral spirits.

Japan has many regional differences in terms of the types of summer festivals, which is what makes each one unique and fun for all ages.

Traditional Natsumatsuri Games

These family-friendly games ensure that everyone has a great time. And there are prizes as well!

My daughter loves games at summer festivals and she was able to start playing them when she turned two years old. She’s won so many toys ranging from an inflatable My Melody to a huge stuffed panda.

Ring Toss (Wanage・輪投げ)

This is a game known universally. Toss rings onto the cones or pegs to win prizes! It’s harder than it looks, especially for kids.

Yo-yo Fishing (yo-yo tsuri・ヨーヨー釣り)

yo yo fishing game at a summer festival in Japan

Fish for small balloons that have a cartoon character on them. Usually, the prize is the balloon they catch, which kids can play with as a yo-yo.

Goldish Scooping (kingyo sukui・金魚すくい)

fishing game at summer festival in japan

Arguably one of the most beloved games at Japanese summer festivals, participants use a paper scoop called a sukui poi to catch live goldfish, or small rubber balls or rubber goldfish. The aim is to catch as many as possible before the paper on the scoop breaks. (My husband is really good at using the plastic edge of the scoop to continue the game!)

It might not be the best idea to play the game with live goldfish because you’ll have to carry them around and take them home. (I also wonder if they overheat in the plastic bag!)

Traditional Natsumatsuri Food

yatai at a japanese summer festival

For me, one of the best parts of summer festivals in Japan is the food. There are plenty of colorful stalls, called yatai (屋台) in Japanese, selling a variety of delicious snacks that are easy to eat on the go.

Keep in mind that the lines to get food can be quite long if you go to a summer festival in the late afternoon or early evening.

Tip: Yatai aren’t only at summer festivals in Japan. For instance, you can find some during the spring and summer at Ueno Park in Tokyo or at popular cherry blossom spots in spring.

Shaved Ice (kakigori・かき氷)

kakigori at a japanese festival

This is my daughter’s favorite dessert and I can’t blame her! It’s light, refreshing, and sweet — everything you need to beat the heat. Some also have condensed milk topping alongside the flavored syrup, which is my favorite.

Below is just a fraction of the kinds of food you’ll find at a summer festival in Japan.

Yakisoba (焼きそば)

yakisoba being cooked at a summer festival in Japan

These fried noodles covered in a savory sauce and topped with pickled ginger are a favorite of my husband.

Chilled cucumber  (hiyashi kyuuri・冷やしきゅうり)

chilled cucumber at a summer festival in Japan

Although it sounds rather plain, this is actually quite good. The cucumber is pickled and kept cool on ice, making it a tasty and refreshing summer snack. My daughter loves it!

Fried chicken (karaage・唐揚げ)

fried chicken at a summer festival in japan

This is another family favorite when it comes to festival food. Nowadays, you can find different flavors as well like soy sauce or yangnyeom.

Yakitori  (焼き鳥)

yakitori at a Japanese festival

This grilled chicken skewered on a stick is topped with sauce or salt and is a great go-to for anyone looking for something to eat.

Candied fruit

candied strawberries at a summer festival in Japan

There are various kinds of candied fruit at festivals in Japan, such as strawberry (いちご飴) or apple (りんご飴). Keep in mind that these can be quite hard so it might be difficult for younger kids to eat.

Famous Summer Festivals in Japan with Fireworks

fireworks at a japanese summer festival

Many summer festivals in Japan end with a colorful display of fireworks, called hanabi (花火・はなび) in Japanese. It lasts anywhere from 15 minutes to 40 minutes, depending on the festival. The longer fireworks displays are usually during fireworks competitions (hanabi taikai), in which two cities or areas battle it out for the best fireworks.

Summer festivals in Japan most known for their fireworks are listed below.

Tenjin Matsuri

This is considered one of the three most famous festivals in Japan. I went with my daughter and we both were mesmerized by the beautiful boats decorated with lanterns in Okawa River near Nakanoshima Park. There are also lots of food stalls in Nakanoshima Park, so many that we had a hard time choosing what to eat! The shopping alleys and streets nearby also have many games and food.

Note that it becomes extremely busy around Osaka Tenmangu Station and Minami Morimatchi Station in the early evening when it draws closer to the fireworks.

When: July 24th to 25th, 2024 (fireworks on the 25th)

Where: Osaka City, Osaka

Learn more about Tenjin Matsuri

Yodogawa Fireworks Festival

One of the largest fireworks festivals in Osaka, the Yodogawa Fireworks Festival is completely run by local volunteers. Fireworks are synchronized with music, creating a stunning show.

When: August 3rd, 2024

Where: Yodogawa-ku, Osaka (along the Yodogawa River near Juso Station)

Time: 19:30-20:30

Learn more about the Yodogawa Fireworks Festival

Edogawa Fireworks Festival

This is one of my favorite summer festivals in Japan. It takes place over a huge amount of space in Edogawa Ward so I never felt it was too crowded. This fireworks festival has Edogawa Ward in Tokyo battle it out with Ichikawa City in Chiba, which is just across the river.

When: August 24th, 2024

Where: Edogawa Ward, Tokyo

Learn more about the Edogawa Fireworks Festival

Sumida River (Sumidagawa) Fireworks Festival

Believed to be one of the first fireworks festivals in Japan, the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is now among the largest in Tokyo. It’s easy to see the fireworks from almost anywhere if you’re near the Sumida River in Asakusa.

I went to this festival before my daughter was born way back in 2013, well before the tourism boom in Japan. And let me tell you, it was very crowded. The train was absolutely packed and hot, but the fireworks were dazzling and worth the effort.

When: July 27th, 2024

Where: Asakusa, Tokyo

Learn more about the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival 

Other Major Japanese Summer Festivals

Gion Matsuri

Yamaboko at Gion Matsuri

This historical summer festival in Kyoto runs for the entire month of July. It began over 1000 years ago as a way to ward off an epidemic that was spreading in Kyoto. Beautiful mikoshi and yamahoko floats that are decorated with elaborate ornaments and textile art, are paraded through the streets of Kyoto.

This is considered one of the three most famous festivals in Japan. However, this also means that this festival is very crowded. A friend who has been three times said that it’s getting worse every year and you can barely walk, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who have kids or don’t like crowds.

When: July 1-31, 2024 (Yamahoko procession is on July 17th and 24th)

Where: Kyoto City

Learn more about Gion Matsuri

Aomori Nebuta Festival

Dancers at the Aomori Nebuta Festival

One of the most famous festivals in Japan, massive colorful and lit-up floats depicting characters from Japanese folk tales or warriors are paraded around Aomori. It’s guaranteed to be unlike anything you have ever seen.

When: August 1-7, 2024 (Nebuta procession from August 2nd to 7th and fireworks on August 7th)

Where: Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture

Learn more about the Aomori Nebuta Festival.

Sendai Tanabata Matsuri

Sendai Tanabata Matsuri

This festival celebrates Tanabata, otherwise known as the Star Festival. According to legend, two lovers named Orihime and Hikoboshi can only meet on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Milky Way. This day is Tanabata.

People write their wishes on a small rectangular piece of paper called tanzaku and hang it on bamboo. During the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri, people write their wishes on seven different decorations, which are displayed in shopping streets.

When: August 6th to 8th, 2024

Where: Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture

Learn more about the Sendai Tanabata Matsuri 

Awa Odori Festival

The Awa Odori is a Bon Odori dance welcoming ancestral spirits, which is performed by around 100,000 dancers wearing colorful costumes and unique straw hats. It’s considered one of the three greatest bon odori festivals in Japan.

When: August 12th to 15th, 2024

Where: Tokushima City, Tokushima Prefecture

Learn more about Awa Odori Festival

What to Wear to a Japanese Summer Festival

If you’re going to a summer festival in Japan, I highly recommend wearing a yukata. Yukata is a cotton kimono that’s less formal than a traditional kimono and is worn only in summer.

author in a pink yukata

You can also wear a jinbei, which is a two-piece set consisting of shorts and a top. Jinbei is an especially popular choice of summer wear for young children and can easily be found at children’s stores in Japan.

For shoes, people wear either sandals or geta. Geta, which are wooden sandals, can be challenging to walk in (and hurt my feet sometimes), so there’s no problem wearing plain old sandals if that suits you better.

If you’re looking for a place to rent yukata, you might want to consider these shops:

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

Essential Tips for Going to a Summer Festival in Japan

I’ve been to countless summer festivals in Japan. Based on my experience, here are some essential tips on what to know so you’re prepared and can have the best time.

Pack a fan and hydrate to beat the heat

Summer in Japan is humid and hot. To combat the heat, bring a portable fan (electric is the best), and make sure you drink plenty of fluids.

Secure a spot to see fireworks early

If you want to see the fireworks from a good spot, bring a tarp or mat. You’ll likely see an area, usually grassy, where other people have set up their tarps or mats and saved their spots.

There are areas where you’re not allowed to do this so don’t put your tarp or mat somewhere that no one else has or is roped off.

People start saving spots from early in the morning, or even the night before sometimes! Make sure to put something on your mat to distinguish it from others, but don’t use anything valuable.

The later it gets, the busier

Most people show up to summer festivals in the late afternoon or early evening. If you want to beat the crowds, go early but be prepared for the heat during the day.

Similarly, if you want to beat the crowds when leaving, try to head to the station before the fireworks end. Trains will likely be very crowded and it may take a while to even get on a train (or make it to the station)!

Bring cash

Many food and drink stalls only accept cash, so make sure you have some on hand.

Cellular reception might not work

Due to the large number of people attending popular festivals in Japan, especially the ones listed above, you might not be able to get good (or any) reception with your mobile phone.

FAQ about Summer Festivals in Japan

When are Japanese summer festivals?

Summer festivals in Japan typically run from the beginning of July to the end of August.

Can children attend summer festivals in Japan?

Yes, absolutely! Summer festivals are fun for the whole family and are child-friendly, as you might have been able to tell by all the games. However, keep in mind that depending on the festival, it can get very crowded.

If you have kids, you might be interested in my article about what to know when going to Japanese summer festivals with kids.

Do I have to pay to attend a summer festival in Japan?

Typically not, although a slight few require an entrance fee.

How can I find a summer festival in Japan?

JapanTravel has a great guide on where to find festivals and other events in Japan.

If you can read Japanese, use this website.

Wrap-Up: Japanese Summer Festivals (Natsumatsuri) — A Time to Enjoy Games, Food, and Fireworks

I hope this look at natsumatsuri in Japan has been helpful to you.

These festivals are a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in Japan during the summer and are guaranteed to make wonderful memories — they certainly have for me!

And if you’re outside of Japan or don’t feel like braving the heat and crowds, I’ve written an article all about how to have a Japanese summer festival 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