There is something about autumn that just feels traditionally Japanese. Perhaps it’s the fiery momiji (Japanese maple) leaves or the autumn harvest’s seasonal delicacies. Or maybe the refreshing autumn weather, after a sticky summer, that begs for a stroll through a temple or shrine. Then there are the spectacular traditional autumn festivals.
Takayama Matsuri Autumn Festival
Widely considered to be one of Japan’s most beautiful festivals. Eleven floats elaborately decorated with motifs and karakuri ningyo (lifelike marionettes are a feast for the eyes as each float comes with its own story sharing Japan’s culture and history in the old town of Takayama. Don’t miss the night parade.
Where: Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine, Gifu.
Ana Hachimangu Yabusame
Experience traditional horseback archery (yabusame) in the hear t of Tokyo. The ancient Japanese art is no easy task. These festivals are often held in spring and autumn. Be sure to catch it while you’re visiting this season.
Where: Sakurayama Hachiman Shrine, Tokyo.
Travel back in time as more than 2,000 people dressed in traditional Japanese wear parade through Kyoto, reflecting the city’s 1,200-year history. The procession starts from Kyoto Imperial Palace (at noon), traveling along Oike-dori (12:50 p.m.) to Heian Jingu Shrine (2:30 p.m.). Special viewing tickets are available from Kyoto City Tourism Association for ¥2,025.
Where: Kyoto Imperial Palace, Kyoto.
(Credits: Kyoto City Tourism Association)
Kurama Fire Festival
The mountain village of Kurama hosts an exciting annual fire festival featuring 250 torches, some weighing over 100 kilograms and stretching three-meters high. The village is alight as villagers carry the torches through the streets followed by a mikoshi (portable shrines).
Where: Yuki-Jinja, Kurama, Kyoto.
Shirasagi-no Mai (White Heron Dance)
Shirasagi-no Mai is a ceremonial parade highlighted by eight dancers dressed as white herons to depict a scene penned on an ancient scroll. The dance and traditional attire brings the Heian Period back to life.
Where: Sensoji Temple, Tokyo.
Late November – Mid-December
Fall Evening Illumination
If you feel like avoiding the festival crowds, a more relaxing option is a visit to Rikugien Gardens. Built during the Edo Period, this daimyo teien (garden) belonged to a feudal lord and today is a popular destination to view kouyou (autumn foliage).
Where: Rikugien Gardens, Tokyo.