A Flower Festival: Five May Events to Check Out!


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A flower festival during May in Japan.

Late April and early May are vibrant periods in Japan, filled with festivals and the excitement of Golden Week. Most prefectures hold traditional events, including a flower festival. So, to make the most of this Golden Week holiday, let’s explore the best five May events you don’t want to miss!

Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival 

Every year, Aomori Prefecture transforms into a dreamy pink paradise as cherry blossoms bloom in Hirosaki Park from late April to early May. With more than 2600 cherry trees of different kinds, the park became one of Japan’s favorite spots for seeing cherry blossoms

People relaxing at the Hirosaki Cherry Blossoms Festival, a flower festival.
This castle area has over 2600 trees. Image via Shutterstock

You’ll find famous types like double-flowered sakura and weeping cherry blossoms here. Inside the park, you’ll find Japan’s oldest Somei Yoshino tree, planted in 1882, which makes it even more special. Over two million people at the Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival annually see this unique flower festival from April 23rd to May 5th! 

At this flower festival, you can walk through the famous sakura tunnel, ride a boat to see the blossoms reflecting off the water, or admire the petals gently falling to the ground. Food stalls, rowboat rentals, and extended opening hours during the event offer plenty of fun activities for everyone to enjoy.

Yabusame Shinji

This joyful festival brings a festive atmosphere, getting everyone excited before the big Aoi Matsuri celebration in Kyoto. On May 3rd, the locals organize the Yabusame Shinji, known as the Mounted Archery Ritual, at Shimogamo Shrine.

A person riding on horseback at the Yabusame Shinji Festival.
This event helps to pray for the safety of the Aoi Matsuri procession. Image via Shutterstock

Archers from the Ogasawara School, which has existed for about 850 years, participated in this event. The archers wear traditional clothes and ride horses down a track. Their goal is to hit three targets. Whenever an archer successfully hits the target, the crowd cheers loudly! It’s all about making sure the parade of Aoi Matsuri stays safe, and the route is nice and clean.

Aoi Matsuri

Aoi Matsuri, also called the “Hollyhock Festival,” occurs every May 15th and is one of Kyoto’s famous festivals, like Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri. It began over 1400 years ago when people prayed for good harvests during bad storms in the 6th century. It became a yearly event in the Heian period when Kyoto became the capital. Then, people started calling it Aoi Matsuri since participants wore hollyhock leaves on their clothes and carts. 

A colorful procession at the Aoi Matsuri.
This festival honors the ornate Heian period (794-1185) Image via Shutterstock

The festival’s main event is a grand parade featuring more than 500 people dressed in Heian period attire, marching from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines. The parade has ox carts, horses, and the saio dai, a young woman representing the royal family. It begins at 10:30 in the morning and goes through different parts of the city, with ceremonies and offerings performed along the way.

Special rituals and ceremonies are held at the shrines before the parade, adding to the festival’s significance. The matsuri truly offers people a unique opportunity to experience the elegance and magnificence of the Heian period.

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Kurayami Matsuri

Kurayami Matsuri, or the Darkness Festival, runs from April 30 to May 6 annually at the Okunitama Shrine in Fuchu, Tokyo. It’s a lively celebration with a history of over 1000 years. The Kurayami Matsuri started long ago when people used to carry mikoshi (portable shrines) in the dark. They did this because they thought connecting directly with the gods was not good when it was bright outside. 

A shrine at the Kurayami Matsuri.
This is the ultimate nighttime shrine festival. Image via Shutterstock

Many paper lanterns illuminate the path at today’s celebration as the mikoshi procession winds through the streets. The festival features a variety of activities, such as horse racing, traditional float parades, and taiko drumming performances. All of them create a magical atmosphere that attracts numerous visitors. During the event, Fuchu buzzes with life. Over 500 stalls offer food, games, and souvenirs. On the east side of the shrine, the Kanto Grand Plant Fair adds to the festivity.

Hamamatsu Festival

This matsuri happens every May 3-5 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, to celebrate the birth of babies. This celebration attracts enormous crowds, with around 1.5 million people visiting the city. The Hamamatsu Festival started long ago, in the 16th century, when the lord of Hikuma Castle flew kites to celebrate his son’s birth. Now, it’s a blend of old customs and new excitement.

People flying kites at the Hamamatsu Festival.
This is one of the largest kite festivals in Japan. Image via Shutterstock

A remarkable part of the event is the epic kite-flying battle at Nakatajima Beach, where up to 174 kites take to the skies! They’re so colorful, each representing a baby born in the town. When the sun sets, the streets light up with a parade of palace-like floats. These floats are like moving works of art, decorated beautifully and accompanied by traditional music. It’s a different vibe from the daytime kite battles, but it’s just as thrilling!

Why should I go to these May events?

These matsuri offer a unique chance to experience Japan’s rich culture and traditions while having fun! Each event has its unique charm and history, from the dreamy flower festival in Hirosaki Park to the grand parade of Aoi Matsuri in Kyoto. Which festival are you most excited to attend? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments below!

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