Summer is objectively the best time of the year in Japan (okay, perhaps I am a little biased). The days are long, the cicadas are chirping, and you never need to worry about bringing a jacket with you. Clearly Japan agrees with me, because summer festivals are a huge part of Japanese culture. Ibaraki has plenty of its own, and regardless of whether you are a seasoned festival-goer or a complete beginner you should absolutely attend at least a few of them.
Ogawa Gion Festival
When: July 18-20
Where: Ogawa Town Centre, Omitama
Public Transport: 30 minutes by bus from Ishioka Station to Ogawa Bus Station, 10 minutes’ walk from there
The Ogawa Gion Festival is associated with Suga Shrine. It is said to be a forerunner of the Gion Festival, and was started around 480 years ago by the lord of Sonobe Castle. During the festival a parade including portable shrines, floats, and lion puppets operated by children and adults will travel around the town. Traffic will be regulated from 5-9:30pm during the festival.
Yuki Summer Festival
When: July 19-26
Where: Takedasuga Shrine, Yuki
Public Transport: 10 minutes’ walk from Yuki Station
The Yuki Summer Festival has continued since the Takedasuga Shrine was established in 1242 by Yuki Tomomitsu, the first head of the Yuki Clan, to pray for the safety of the castle town and the health of its residents.
30th Annual Sakai Furusato Festival
When: July 19, 25
Where: The banks of the Tone River and the old main street, Sakai
Public Transport: 40 minutes by bus from Koga Station or 40 minutes by bus from Tobu Animal Park
There will be a parade featuring dancing, portable shrines, a fife and drum corps, and a brass band, a character show, a fireworks display, and much more.
Shimodate Gion Festival
When: July 23-26, 6-10pm (on the 26th the festival will be from 6-9am)
Where: The main street north of Shimodate Station, Haguro Shrine, and various other locations in Chikusei
Public Transport: Right outside Shimodate Station
Chikusei’s largest festival, consisting of four days of portable shrine parades, including the 120 year old Meiji mikoshi, a women-only mikoshi, the Heisei mikoshi, which is the largest portable shrine in Japan that is carried every year, 30 children’s mikoshi, and many more. In the early morning on the 26th, the heroic river portable shrine parade will take place, during which the Meiji mikoshi will be carried in the river. On the 25th, the Wasshoi Carnival will be held alongside the Gion Festival. Portable shrines carried by adults and children will gather from in and around Shimodate and parade along the main road north of Shimodate Station.
Iwai Summer Festival
When: July 24-25, 6-10pm
Where: Iwai Town Center, Bando
Public Transport: 30 minutes by Ibaraki Kyuko Bus from Atago Station on the Tobu Urban Park Line
There will be a portable shrine parade from Yasaka Shrine and a children’s portable shrine parade. During the festival the roads will be closed to traffic and various events will take place.
When: July 25-26
Where: Tegosaki Shrine, Kamisu
Public Transport: 10 minutes by Kanto Tetsudo bus (heading for Hasaki Beach) from Choshi Station on the Sobu Line
The Hasaki area in Kamisu is a well-known fishing spot where the Kuroshio Current and Oyashio Current meet, and is has developed since long ago as a fishing town. The Tegosaki Shrine’s Oshio Festival has continued since midway through the Edo Period, and it is a lively festival where participants pray for safety at sea and large hauls. Portable shrines are carried from Tegosaki Shrine around Hasaki Fishing Port and the eastern Hasaki area, and they are known to occasionally jostle and get a little wild. As bystanders shout and cheer, this festival, which heralds the coming of midsummer, reaches its peak. Tegosaki Shrine and the Oshio Festival fanfare have been designated as Important Intangible Cultural Properties.
The 18th Annual Furusato Festival Association Portable Shrine Parade
When: July 25, 5-9pm
Where: Shimotsuma City Hall Chiyokawa Building, Shimotsuma
Public Transport: 12 minutes’ walk from Sodo Station
This festival allows you to experience the bold form of Japanese culture, with a parade featuring portable shrines and floats.
34th Annual Kappa Festival
When: July 25-26, 3-9:30pm
Where: Ushiku City Hall, Hanamizugi Street, local parks in Ushiku
Public Transport: 5 minutes’ walk from Ushiku Station
Around 10 thousand people will participate in the Kappa Bayashi Parade, the main feature of this festival. There will be a song show, dancing, and many more events on the main stage.
Yasaka Shrine Gion Festival
When: June 25
Where: Yasaka Shrine, Moriya
Public Transport: 10 minutes’ walk from Moriya Station
Yasaka Shrine’s Gion Festival is held in early summer to ward off illnesses that spread in summer. A kagura performance is held in the shrine’s Kagura Hall, five floats and a portable shrine with lanterns parade around the town, and at nightfall the floats, decorated with lights, gather before the shrine, where they surround and circle the portable shrine. This ceremony is particular to the Moriya Gion Festival.
When: July 25
Where: The Shimoishizaki area and Lake Hinuma in Ibaraki-machi
On a stage on top of 3-4 linked Japanese-style boats, dances including okame and hyottoko are performed. At night, the boats line up before Osugi Shrine and the dancing continues.
When: July 27, 6pm onward
Where: Tsukumai Street, Ne-machi, Ryugasaki
Public Transport: 10 minutes’ walk from Ryugasaki Station
On the last day of the three-day Yasaka Festival, a traditional performance known as tsukumai takes place. As flutes and drums play, a performer known as a mai-otoko (literally ‘dancing man’) wearing deep green clothing and a frog mask will climb a 14m pole. At the top there is a circle made from 120 straw bags, and there the mai-otoko will shoot an arrow to the north, south, east, and west. Next, he will perform daring acrobatics including handstands atop the pole. It is said that the purpose of this tsukumai is to pray for rain and a good harvest and to ward off diseases, and that the people who pick up the arrows shot by the mai-otoko will be free of misfortune for a year. Ryugasaki’s tsukumai is registered as an Important Intangible Cultural Property.
Yasaka Shrine Annual Festival
When: August 1-3
Where: Yasaka Shrine, Toride
Public Transport: 15 minutes’ walk from Toride Station
This festival is packed with traditions, including a parade of one of the three largest portable shrines in the Kanto region, bottomless floats, and a kagura performance. Yasaka Shrine was built in 1626, and the portable shrine was made in 1826. 80 young people will carry the portable shrine, which is known as one of the wildest portable shrines in the Kanto region. The shrine will be carried on August 1st and 3rd.
Tsuchiura Kirara Festival 2015
When: August 1-2, 1-9:30pm
Where: Main street west of Tsuchiura Station, Lake Kasumigaura, and other locations around Tsuchiura
Public Transport: Right outside Tsuchiura Station
The whole of Tsuchiura will be overrun with decorations and festivities, all the way to Lake Kasumigaura. There will be a Tanabata dancing contest and bold floats made by citizens parading through the streets.
Mai Ami Festival 2015
When: August 1-2, 3-9pm
Where: Street south of the Ibaraki Prefectural University of Health Sciences, Ami
Public Transport: 25 minutes by bus from Tsuchiura Station, or 15 minutes by bus from Arakawaoki Station
This festival has been held since 1990 – this year will be its 26th year. Throughout July summer festivals are held in many locations, and summer reaches its peak with in early August in Ami with the Mai Ami Festival, filling the streets with festive spirit.
55th Annual Mito Komon Festival
When: August 7-9
Where: Various locations around Mito
Public Transport: The main part of the festival takes place 10 minutes’ walk north of Mito Station
On the first day of the festival, 4500 fireworks will be let off over Senba Lake south of Mito Station. On the second and third days, a huge number of floats and portable shrines and around 3400 dancers will parade down the main street north of Mito Station.
Itako Gion Festival
When: August 7-9
Where: The area around Itako Station, Itako
Public Transport: Right outside Itako Station
The Itako Gion Festival is an event of Sogakumano Shrine, and is held on the first Friday to Sunday of August each year. The festivities include a parade of 14 flashy floats featuring large dolls accompanied by music. Many of the floats and decorations were made in the Edo and Meiji periods, and display the craftsmanship of the day. Some of them have been designated as Important Tangible Cultural Properties.
Fireworks and Lantern Festival
When: August 14, 7:30 – 9pm
Where: Oaza Daigo (Sandbank where the Kuji River and Oshikawa River meet), Daigo
Public Transport: 5 minutes’ walk from Hitachi-Daigo Station
Fireworks will be launched from the sandbar where the Kuji River and Oshikawa River meet, and the atmosphere produced by the innumerous lanterns floating along the river is unique to this festival.
Karakasa Lantern Festival
When: August 15
Where: Washi Shrine, Tsuchiura
Public Transport: 20 minutes by bus from Tsuchiura Station West Exit
The highlight of this festival are the dedicatory fireworks for a good harvest and household safety flowing from the 5x6m umbrella shaped launch pad like a waterfall. Before the fireworks are lit, there is also a dedicatory musical performance to call the rain.
28th Annual Ayumi Festival
When: August 16, 2:30-9pm
Where: Ayumizaki Park, Kasumigaura
Public Transport: 40 minutes by taxi from Kandatsu Station
From the unveiling of Ayumizaki Kannon Temple to canoeing, yosakoi, and taiko performances, this festival is packed with events. The festival closes with a fireworks display over Kasumigaura Lake.
When: August 16, 6-8:30pm, August 22, 6-9:30pm
Where: Area around Kasama Inari Shrine, Kasama
Public Transport: 15-20 minutes’ walk from Kasama Station
From the quiet atmosphere of the lantern floating on August 16 to the lively parade featuring a forceful nebuta from Aomori, a light objet nebuta created by the citizens, portable shrines, and much more, the Kasama Festival is a colourful summer event where you can enjoy both tranquility and movement.
21st Annual Hitachinaka Festival
When: August 22 – 23
Where: Various locations around Hitachinaka (the fireworks will take place at JGSDF Camp Katsuta)
Public Transport: Near Katsuta Station
The two-day festival begins with a powerful fireworks display that can be seen from JGSDF Camp Katsuta, with around 3000 fireworks, including giant starmines set to music. The second day is packed with events, the main one being a Guinness World Record attempt with Hitachinaka’s famous dried sweet potatoes.
Oarai Hassaku Festival
When: August 22 – 23, 3 – 9pm
Where: Various locations around Oarai
Public Transport: 15 minutes’ walk from Oarai Station
Originally a festival to pray for a good harvest and stability for the town’s residents, the Oarai Hassaku Festival has continued since the 1700s. It ceased for a time in the 60s, but was revived in 1999. The eve of the festival there will be a parade of floats, and on the day of the festival the roads will be closed to traffic and filled with food stalls and booths displaying local wares.
Matsuri Tsukuba 2015
When: August 22, 12 – 9pm, August 23 10 – 9pm
Where: Various locations around Tsukuba Station, Tsukuba
Public Transport: A few minutes’ walk from Tsukuba Station
Tsukuba’s largest festival, a lively and passionate event held with the aim of showing off what makes Tsukuba wonderful.
When: August 23, 9am – 9:30pm
Where: Chikusei City Hall Sekijo Branch, Chikusei
Public Transport: 10 minutes by taxi from Kurogo Station or the south exit of Kawashima Station or Shimodate Station
The Doskoi Pear Festival is associated with pears, a specialty of Chikusei, and the pear sumo, which is held to pray for a good harvest of pears. This year, groups including the Shikihide Stable in Ryugasaki, Mito’s local idols, and Ibaliger will attend. During the day there will be children’s sumo, women’s sumo, arm wrestling, and a number of other stage events. In the evening, there will be a portable shrine parade and accompanying music and a number of other events. There will also be an open air market with stalls and booths selling food and other local products.
When: Late August (Takaoka Style), August 24 (Kohari Matsushita Style)
Where: Takaoka Atago Shrine (Takaoka Style) Kohari Atago Shrine (Kohari Matsushita Style), Tsukubamirai
Public Transport: Take a bus from Toride Station and get off at Takaoka Bus Stop, or 20 minutes’ walk from Miraidaira Station
Tsunabi (literally ‘rope fire’) involves ropes being strung up between poles, and people making puppets and fireworks cross the ropes while drums and flutes play music. This event is associated with the Atago Shrine, and is held to ward off fires and pray for a good harvest. There are two styles of tsunabi performed in Toride, and both are designated Important Intangible Cultural Properties. This festival, during which you can watch dolls and fireworks cross the summer night sky, is an invaluable piece of Japanese history and culture.
Omitama Furusato Fureai Festival
When: August 28, 6pm onward, August 29, 9am – 9pm (postponed to August 30 in case of rain)
Where: Kibogaoka Park, Omitama
Public Transport: 20 minutes by bus from Ishioka Station, get off at Hills Garden Minori
There will be a number of stage events, including performances by elementary and junior high school students, folk entertainments, a song performance, character show, yelling contest, and much more. There will also be stalls run by locals. In the evening on the 29th there will be a lively harvest dance, followed by a fireworks display. This festival is fun for the whole family. On Friday evening, there will be a yosakoi festival.
When: September 19, 9am onward, September 20, 10:30am onward, September 21, 1:10pm onward
Where: The area around Ishioka Station, Hitachi no Kuni Soshagu Shrine, Ishioka
Public Transport: Right outside Ishioka Station
The Ishioka Festival is associated with Hitachi no Kuni Soshagu Shrine, and is one of the Kanto region’s three largest festivals. More than 40 elaborate portable shrines, floats, and lion puppets will parade around the town.