December Calendar: Best in Japan for the Season!

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A Sapporo Illumination event, which is one of many popular events on the December calendar.

From traditional winter festivals to fireworks, you’ll never forget these events. Add these events to your December calendar if you plan to visit Japan this time of year. Some of these events happen only once a year, and you don’t want to miss them!

Chichibu Yomatsuri 

The Chichibu Yomatsuri, or Chichibu Night Festival, is one of Japan’s most cherished events. It unfolds on December 2nd and 3rd in Chichibu, paying homage to Chichibu Shrine. Spanning two days, the festival presents a visual feast with streets adorned by food vendors, winter nights illuminated by vibrant floats, and stunning fireworks displays.

A float at the Chichibu Yomatsuri.
This is an amazing festival that happens at night. Image via Shutterstock

The festival’s floats are masterpieces featuring intricate details such as lanterns, gilded wood, and ornate tapestries. These elements also collectively transform the floats into colossal works of art that captivate spectators. As the day draws to a close, the sky over Chichibu becomes a canvas for a spectacular fireworks show, adding a dazzling finale to the festivities. Given the limited space in Chichibu, securing optimal viewing locations becomes crucial, prompting attendees to either reserve seats or arrive early to partake in the grandeur of this cultural celebration.

Hadaka Matsuri

Easily one of Japan’s most memorable and unique festivals, the Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival) is precisely what the name implies. Thousands of men participate in the festival, hoping to gain good luck for the upcoming year. This involves them wearing as little clothing as possible, sometimes only a simple fundoshi loincloth, tabi socks, and headband!

Men without shirts at the Hadaka Matsuri, one of many popular events on the December calendar.
The Hadaka Festival is centered around doing away with bad fortune. Image via Shutterstock

In this unique tradition, each man has the mission of touching the Shin-Otoko (Chosen One), a specific individual believed to bring good luck to those who make contact. A chaotic, high-energy spectacle follows as thousands of men strive to touch the Shin-Otoko. In an intriguing twist, the accumulated bad luck is transferred into a distinctive piece of mochi, which is subsequently buried in a concealed location. This ritual represents a fascinating blend of cultural beliefs and vibrant energy, showcasing how communities unite to mark the passage of time.

Ako Gishisai

Another event to add to your December calendar is the Ako Gishisai festival! It commemorates forty-seven samurai who became legends in Japanese history. These samurai, known as ronin, avenged their wrongfully accused master in an 18th-century tale that has inspired movies and plays. The story specifically revolves around their commitment to justice and their subsequent ritualistic suicides in honor of their fallen nobleman.

Men drumming at the Ako Gishisai.
This festival centers around the legendary 47 Ronin. Image via Rove.me

The Ako Gishisai festival that honors these forty-seven ronin takes place at Sengakuji Temple in Minato City. On December 14th, food stalls will open near the temple, where people can enjoy street food such as takoyaki, yakisoba, and more. A procession of 47 people dressed like the ronin begins a journey at Zojoji and Sengakuji Temple. The Ako Gishi-sai is a unique festival that marries cultural tradition and history together over one of Japan’s most famous historical events.

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Chinkasai Fire Festival

The Chinkasai Fire Festival is less of a celebration and more of an event that aims to deter disaster. More specifically, it is about fire prevention at the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima. While the festival occurs on the very last day of the year, those who attend the festival can prepare during the whole month of December. Festival attendees make small pine torches, while a massive pine torch is constructed for the festival. As the sun sets on December 31st, people gather at the O-torii on the shore by Itsukushima Shrine. 

People at the Chinkasai Fire Festival.
Believe it or not, this is a fire prevention festival. Image via Get Hiroshima

The pine torches are lit, and upwards of 30-40 men carry the massive pine torch on their shoulders. As the torches are carried along the shore, people chant “Taimatsu Yoi Yoi.” At the end of the festival, after all of the torches have burned out, the ashes are collected and placed in individual families’ altars to prevent catastrophic fires for the following year. While it can be fiery and loud, the Chinka-ai festival wishes for peace, safety, and calm for the following year.

Why should I put these events on my December calendar?

There are some winter events that, while fun, can be enjoyed in many places. Ice skating, Christmas lights, Christmas-themed parties and events, and also gift-giving can be done all over. If you’re able to visit Japan in December, you also should make sure to partake in events that are unique and native to Japan that can’t be done anywhere else in the world.

An Osaka illumination festival.
What events would you like to add to your December calendar? Image via Shutterstock

Not only are these events unique to Japan, but they’re also exciting, high-energy, and easy to travel to. These events celebrate Japanese culture and tradition while providing good food and positive experiences. Would you put any of these events on your December calendar? If so, which were your favorites? Please let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear about your adventures in Japan!

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