Want to witness some of Japan’s more intriguing festivals? Then Shikoku Island is the place you should visit. Japanese festivals are centuries old – some of them are fun while others may be quirky or even frightening.
Shikoku opens up a whole new world of Japanese culture, especially if you are going to experience some of the fascinating festivals here. The best time to do this is the summer period, when most of the festivals take place. What are some of the fascinating festivals here? Let’s find out the names of the festivals and where it is being held.
1. Awa Odori Dance Festival (Tokushima)
The Awa Odori Dance Festival dates back to the Kamakura period in the 12th century. It is one of the popular and lively festivals held all over Japan, but Tokushima City is where the festival originated from. Also known as one of the largest dance festivals in Japan, over 1.3 million people attend this massive festival annually.
At the festival, you see musicians and dancers perform a choreographed dance while parading along the main streets here. Performers wear special the ‘Odon’ costumes, which comes in various colours and designs for each troupe.
A local Japanese folk song associated with this festival is called Awa Yoshikono, where parts are sung and others are chanted by the participants of the festival. During the festival, chants of the hayashi kotoba (folk song lyrics) and response from dancers are “Yattosa, yattosa”, “Hayaccha yaccha”, “Erai yaccha, erai yaccha”, and “Yoi, yoi, yoi, yoi”, which have no specific meaning but mainly for encouragement.
The best place to catch the Awa Odori Dance Festival is in front of the JR Tokushima Station, and take note that it will be extremely crowded. I recommend accommodations to be booked in advance if you want to attend this festival in Tokushima.
Awa Odori Dance Festival
Location: Tokushima Station Area, Tokushima
Festival Period: 12 – 15 August
2. Yosakoi Matsuri Festival (Kochi)
Probably the most famous and popular festival on the island of Shikoku, the Yosakoi Matsuri Festival runs from 9 to 12 August in Kochi City. Thousands of locals attend this as part of the three Great Yosakoi Festivals in Shikoku, along with the Awa Odori in Tokushima and the Niihama Taiko Festival in Ehime.
The Yosakoi festivals where people in unique costumes and make-up dance while clapping naruko (wooden hand clappers) which was originally used to ward off harmful birds. Vibrant colours give the festival life, and with current lifestyle generation, you tend to witness a more modern feel versus a traditional aspect.
Yosakoi Matsuri Festival
Location: Kochi City, Kochi
Festival Period: 9 – 12 August
3. Niihama Taiko Festival (Ehime)
More like a parade, you could see over 50 different types of Dashi floats which are huge, intricate and colourful during this centuries-old festival. Along the main streets of Niihama in Ehime, you could witness participants carrying these heavy Dashi.
One Dashi to look out for is the one with gold and silver design called Taikodai. This massive Dashi weighs up to 2.5 tons and the main highlight is watching hundreds of Japanese men lifting it. This part of the festival is called the Kakikurabe, and one should not stay too close to the Taikodai when the performance is on-going.
The best place in Niihama to observe this fascinating festival is the Ikku Shrine area, which is about 30 minutes’ walk from Niihama’s main station. If you want a good view, there are special tickets sold for a viewing area and these cost between ¥3000 to ¥4000 per person.
Niihama Taiko Festival
Location: Niihama, Ehime
Festival Period: 16 – 18 October
4. Uwajima Ushi-oni Festival (Ehime)
One of the scary festivals that comes with mobile float decorations of “ushi-oni” or cow ogre, which is made to look like a demon. This unique portable float is also made from bamboo and logs and measures about 5 to 6 meters long with a bullhead and cow body covered with red or brown fabric.
The Cow Ogre is carried down a street by mostly young people who contentiously chant in Japanese. The aim of this festival is to ward off evil or give blessings to homes, where the cow ogre head protrudes into people’s homes.
The festival is three days long, the first day includes a street carnival and fireworks display. On the second day, a mini parade takes place along with a traditional dance, and on the third day, the Ushi-Oni parade takes place with over 20 mobile floats parading along the main streets. Truly a unique festival, but if you travel with kids, just stay a distance as they may get scared easily.
Uwajima Ushi-oni Festival
Location: Uwajima Street, Ehime
Festival Period: 22 – 24 July
5. Onmaku Hanabi Citizens Festival (Ehime)
If you prefer an amazing fireworks festival, complete with traditional Japanese dances, the Onmaku Hanabi Citizens Festival is for you.
This is also Shikoku’s largest fireworks festival where over 15,000 fireworks are displayed during the event. The festival revolves around traditional dances, art and painting, a carnival and of course the fireworks on the final day.
Onmaku Hanabi Citizens Festival
Location: Imabari Port and the surroundings of Honmachi shopping district, Imabari
Festival Period: 4 – 5 August
6. Sanuki Takamatsu Festival (Kagawa)
The Sanuki Takamatsu Festival is more of a multipurpose festival where you can find a mix of everything. There are more highlights for fireworks here, where over 8000 fireworks will be let off on the final night.
Over 4000 dancers take part in the street parade in beautiful traditional Japanese costumes, with flags and musical instruments. This three-day festival has been around since 1964 and attracts thousands of visitors from all over Japan and around the world.
Other entertainments and fun activities found throughout the festival include Japanese concerts, Yukata competitions, food bazaars and even comedy shows.
Sanuki Takamatsu Festival
Location: Chuo Park, Sunport Takamatsu and Central Park, Kagawa
Festival Period: 12 – 14 August
7. Saijo Festival (Ehime)
Held during autumn and one of the largest festivals in Japan, this unique festival in Ehime dates back to the Edo period and is celebrated at the main shrines around here.
The main highlight of this festival is 150 ‘Danjiri’ or massive wooden floats that are moved to the Kamo River where they will parade along with the ‘Mokoshi’ or portable wooden shrines and ‘Taikodai’ or drum wagons. The festival begins by pushing these massive cart type floats along the city, with men and women playing the Taiko drums along the way.
This is a spectacle to see as the myriad of colours and drumming sounds will make the festival atmosphere come to live. The main highlight of the Saijo festival is called ‘Kawairi,’ or the part where the Danjiri are brought into the river.
Location: Saijo City, Ehime
Festival Period: 12 – 14 August
Apart from the mentioned festival held in Tokushima, Ehime, Kochi and Kagawa in this article, there are actually many other festivals that take place all over Shikoku. The festivals mentioned above are some of the main festivals and is suitable if you are visiting Shikoku during summer and autumn period.
Need more information about Shikoku?
Visit the official Shikoku Tourism website for up-to-date information.