Live and breathe Japanese culture by taking part in the many matsuri that happen throughout the archipelago. These traditional ceremonies celebrate Japanese deities, and participants call upon their protection for the months to come.
In the spring, for example, you can participate in the Takayamamatsuri in the Japanese Alps. During this festival, the celebration includes parades of karakuri ningyo, which are giant handmade puppets that require at least ten people to handle. For a more mystical experience, head to Nagano to attend the Onbashira festival, where tradition calls for tree trunks felled during a Shinto ceremony to be carried to nearby temples, symbolizing the strengthening of their foundations.
Nature serves as the backdrop for the Setouchi Triennial. If you're a fan of contemporary art, this festival is an excellent opportunity to view artwork during an outdoor stroll.
Lanterns are an important part of local Japanese ceremonies and rituals. You can experience them at incredible parades that celebrate light like Setsubun Mantoro in Nara (close to Osaka) or the Aomori Nebutamatsuri in northern Honshu. As part of the Aomori Nebutamatsuri, bamboo and paper structures bring mythical characters and samurai to life for the night.