One of the things I’ve been enjoying the most since moving to Matsumoto earlier this year are all the great summer festivities in the city, like the Taiko Festival and Matsumoto Bon Bon. There is so much going on that I don’t even have time to do it all! If you’re planning to come to Matsumoto, I think it would even more fun if you coordinate your visit with one of the festivals (of course, there are also festivals in other seasons of the year too!). Here, I want to introduce just a few of these great summer events.
The Tenjin Festival is held in honor of the Tenjin deity, and it is celebrated not just in Matsumoto, but in many places around Japan where there are Shinto shrines dedicated to the Tenjin deity. Osaka’s Tenjin Festival is probably the most famous one of its kind in Japan. In Matsumoto, it is celebrated every year on July 24 & 25 at Fukashi Shrine. Eighteen enormous floats (a kind of traditional portable shrine called dashi or butai) from the different districts of downtown Matsumoto are pulled by hand through the streets, finally gathering at Fukashi Shrine. The Tenjin Festival in Matsumoto has been celebrated since the 1600s in Japan, so it has over 300 hundred years of history! The floats themselves are mostly over 100 years old, as well. Here you can enjoy Japanese street food, see festival-goers in yukata and happi outfits, and get a close look at the amazingly detailed ornaments and carvings on the butai!
The Taiko Festival is a big, 2-day event held right on the doorstep of Matsumoto Castle (admission is free!). Taiko clubs and performers from all over Japan come to perform here, ranging from elementary school student clubs to professional groups. The performers use all kinds of different taiko drums including huge ones that are far bigger than the drummers themselves! Here you can see not only traditional taiko songs from different regions, but also more contemporary artistic performances and impressive show-like performances by the pro-drummers. I have to say though, I think I was most impressed by the amazing elementary school kid who seemed like pros in their own right! If you go, you definitely don’t want to miss the finally, where all of the different taiko clubs come to the stage at once and play together. The day I went it was raining so I couldn’t get any photos, but do check out the video of the finale below.
Matsumoto Bon Bon
Matsumoto Bon Bon, which first started back in 1975, is basically a gigantic line dance that takes place on the streets of downtown Matsumoto. It’s held on the night of the first Saturday of August every year, and more than 20,000 participants take part. Matsumoto Bon Bon is different from the traditional obon dances and requires you to be part of a team to participate as a dancer (teams must be 30 people or more), so you’ll see a lot of teams formed by local companies or schools. Each team has there own “uniforms” ranging from customized T-shirts to more traditional happi (a kind of Japanese festival outfit). Though technically you have to be on a team to participate, you might find a chance to sneak in the line and join dance for a minute or two 😉
On the festival day, pink and white paper lanterns are hung around the city and are lite up when it gets dark. The special “Matsumoto Bon Bon” song is played throughout the city for the entire 4 hours of the festival. Many restaurants and shops along the dance route set up street stalls selling food and drinks, so you can enjoy all kinds of Japanese goodies! Because the Bon Bon dance is such a spectacle, some onlookers even set up their own little “picnic” area with lawn chairs and their own cooler full of drinks and snacks.
Matsumoto Obon Dance
Matsumoto’s Obon Dance event (Oshiro Bon Odori) lasts the entire three days of Obon (usually Aug. 14 -16) and the great thing is that it takes place right in front of the castle! During the event, a stage is set up at night with a big taiko drum and dancers dressed up in summer yukata. Paper lanterns hang from the stage and cast a soft glow on the participants and onlookers below. Here you can here all sorts of traditional obon dance songs from Matsumoto and nearby areas like Azumino. Each song has its own particular dance and anyone can participate. It’s completely free plus you get to see the night light-up of the castle while you’re dancing! I went this year on the first night – there were people of all ages coming to watch and dance, including lots of foreign visitors.