A summer in Japan isn’t complete without a visit to a local matsuri, or festival. Every summer towns both large and small put together a matsuri to celebrate the season with the local community and visitors. Every festival has the same core, delicious street stall food, women dressed in colorful yukata and men in casual jinbei, and of course, dancing and folk music. From here, each festival shows off its own distinctive flare, from community dance group performances to traditional art displays passed down through the generations. Every festival is different and highlights the special talents of the town.
Koenji Awa Odori
Located on the Chuo Line just a few stops from Shinjuku, Koenji is a small town known for its independent music scene and hippie past. The annual matsuri held every August focuses on the Awa Odori dance that originated in Tokushima. The matsuri began in 1957 to help the local struggling businesses with just a couple of dance groups. Now, the festival boasts about 10,000 dancers and over a million visitors crowding the small streets. This normally quiet suburb transforms into a huge dance party every year. Hundreds of dance groups and live musicians, not just from Koenji but also from other regions of Japan, dance in a parade around the town center in an organized loop. The dancing begins in the evening but visitors gather early to grab a snack from the food stalls and find a good viewing spot.
Tanabata is a summer holiday celebrating stars and lovers. Festival goers write their wishes on colorful pieces of paper and tie them to bamboo trees for good luck. Every July and August, there are a plethora of tanabata festivals throughout the whole country, each festival claiming to be the best. The Asagaya Tanabata is the largest Tanabata held in Tokyo. Roughly 700 meter shotengai, or covered shopping arcade, is lined with streamers and decorations all celebrating wishes and stars. The traditional Tanabata decoration consists of a large, round ornament with colorful streamers hanging down, called fukinagashi. The Asagaya locals have strayed from tradition and created haribotekazari inspired by humor and recent trends, highlighting anime stars and politicians. The festival officially began about sixty years ago and some of the same business are still creating new paper mache ornaments every year. The decorations for the Asagaya Tanabata usually last for about five days, with food and drink stalls open on the weekend of the festival.
For a unique spin on the classic matsuri route, the Kameido Tenjin matsuri holds a Big Japan Pro Wrestling tournament on the last day of the festival. Kameido is a small, local suburb in Koto ward with an impressive view of Tokyo Skytree. The annual matsuri follows the same style as every other summer matsuri, with food stalls, traditional clothing and music. The last Sunday of the festival features the wrestling competition, with the wrestlers fighting in the style of Big Japan Pro Wrestling: intense, violent and hardcore. The final showdown of the matsuri is the Royal Rumble where all wrestlers participate. However, the event is still family matsuri friendly and the wrestlers hang around afterwards to sign autographs and join in on the festivities.