Guide to Matsuri: Japanese Summer Festivals in Osaka

Guide to Matsuri: Japanese Summer Festivals in Osaka

Matsuris have a long, storied history in Japan, dating back to the beginnings of the Shinto religion. Nowadays, they are often multi-day celebrations that occur throughout Japan, particularly in the summer.

In this blog, we’ll be focusing on Sakura Box’s home of Osaka and the three biggest matsuri that occur here every year. Let’s jump in and take a look at these iconic celebrations.

What is Matsuri?

‘Matsuri’ is the Japanese word for ‘festivals’. Historically, these have been tied to the Shinto religion, Japan’s earliest indigenous religion and still the country's largest religion to this day.

Much of the Shinto religion is focused on nature and the concept that deities known as ‘kami’ inhabit all things, including forces of nature and prominent landscapes.

Shinto became a huge component of Japan’s agricultural history, and festivals known as matsuri were observed to appease deities and ensure good harvests for the season.

While the exact beginning of matsuri are unknown, it’s believed they came to be sometime during the Yayoi period (300 BCE to 300 CE), the same period when Shinto became a ubiquitous religion.

Over centuries, as Buddhism was introduced into Japan and entwined with Shinto, the matsuri evolved to reflect the combined beliefs of both religious practices.

Most modern-day matsuri are still observations of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. In modern-day Japan, approximately 80% of residents still practice components of Shintoism.

In 2021, a survey by Statista found that 87.24 million Japanese people (approximately 69% of the population) still adhered to Shinto practices.

Top Japanese Festivals in Osaka

Tenjin Matsuri

The Tenjin Matsuri is easily the biggest summer festival in Osaka, considered one of Japan's top three festivals. 

Tenjin Matsuri is named in honor of Sugawara no Michizane, who became known as the Japanese deity of scholarship and learning. In the Shinto religion, his deified name is Tenman-Tenjin.

This festival has a long history, dating back over a thousand years to the year 951, when the first Tenjin matsuri was held at the Tenmangu Shrine.

The Tenjin Matsuri takes place over two days, July 24 and July 25 each year. On the first day, rituals are held at the Tenmangu Shrine to invite the spirit of Tenman-Tenjin to the proceedings.

The second day features a grand land procession with participants in traditional costumes and carrying portable shrines. In the evening, a river procession with approximately 100 illuminated boats carrying portable shrines occurs. Festivities end on the second night with a dazzling fireworks display.

Aizen Matsuri

The Aizen Matsuri is the very first summer festival in Osaka each year, with a history that dates back over 1,400 years. 

The festival occurs every year between June 30 and July 2 at the Aizendo Temple and its surroundings. It is dedicated to Aizen Myo-o, who is seen as the Buddhist god of luck, charms, love, and happy marriage.

Various rituals, processions, and parades take place over the three days, with one of the most important being the Hoekago Parade on the first day.

12 girls, selected by committee, are designated as “Aizen Musume” (Aizen daughters) and dress in elaborate yukatas (unlined cotton summer kimonos). They’re transported in palanquins and carried towards Aizendo temple.

Once the Aizen Musume reach the temple, they’re lifted in front of the main hall as worshippers receive smiles and flowers. This parade is performed to receive blessings for prosperous businesses, luck, and fulfilling romantic relationships.

Sumiyoshi Matsuri

The Sumiyoshi Matsuri is another major festival that takes place in Osaka. The festival is held annually from July 30 to August 1.

The festival occurs at and around the Sumiyoshi Taisha, which is the grand shrine devoted to the Sumiyoshi Shinto kami. These kami are the gods of the sea and sailing.

Before the festival begins, portable shrines used to carry the kami are cleansed with water. On the evening of July 30, the Yoimiyasai ceremony is held to transfer the kami to portable shrines.

A purification ceremony is performed on July 31, which includes shrine maidens, children, and dancers dressed in colorful costumes. They pass through huge standing rings made of grass as an act of spiritual cleansing.

On the last day, the Mikoshi Togyo ceremony occurs. The portable shrines are carried over the Sorihashi Bridge, across the Yamato River to Shukuin Shrine in Sakai City. They are then returned to Sumiyoshi Taisha. 

During the closing ceremony, prayers and rituals are held to thank the kami and wish for a prosperous year ahead.

Traditional Matsuri Attire

Given the traditional roots of most Japanese festivals, it’s common practice for attendees to wear traditional attire. Common clothing you may see at matsuris around Japan include the following:

Yukata

These are summer kimonos made of cotton, worn by both men and women. Often brightly colored and featuring floral or seasonal designs.

Jinbei

The jinbei is a two-piece garment consisting of a kimono-style top and matching shorts or pants, typically worn by men and children.

Geta

Traditional wooden sandals worn with a yukata or other traditional attire. They are held with up to three wooden “teeth” (platforms) on the bottom.

Tabi

Traditional Japanese socks that separate the big toe from the other toes. These are often with geta or other traditional Japanese sandals.

Hachimaki

A headband that is often seen during matsuri. It is usually a strip of cloth tied at the back of the head that features various designs or slogans.

Savoring Japanese Festival Delicacies

If you want to experience some of the delicacies that people enjoy at Japan’s major festivals, the good news is you can get these tasty snacks delivered to you thanks to Sakura Box.

These include:

  • Puku Puku Tai Wafer Chocolate Taiyaki 10 Pack - a snackable wafer and chocolate version of Taiyaki, which is traditionally a fish-shaped cake with sweet fillings such as anko (red bean paste).
  • Mocchan Dango 24 Pack - a take-home version of Dango, which are traditionally dumplings made from a variety of rice flours. Dango is a popular sweet treat among festival attendees.
  • Mochi (Traditional Japanese Wagashi Treats) - delicious rice cake sweets based on one of Japan’s longest-enduring snacks, the Mochi (freshly made rice cakes often with a sweet filling).
If you have any questions about our range of treats or snack boxes, check out our general FAQs for more information.
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