Across Japan, you will encounter celebrations called matsuri. Matsuri are festivals, ranging from Shinto shrine festivals to government holidays to food festivals. They may celebrate the changing of the seasons, a historical event, or traditional culture. In this travel guide, we will focus on a specific type of matsuri: the food festival.
When traveling abroad, sampling traditional cuisine is one of the best ways to experience the authentic culture. Said cookbook author Ronni Lundy, “If you read between the lines of recipes, you can often find the things unspoken, the clues to their lives, the keys to discovering what they value. You see what’s important enough to make for a celebration…it’s all there, just between the lines.”
In most areas, one type of festival or another will take place just about every month of the year. Consider the following list of some of the best food festivals in Japan. Don’t forget to purchase your Japan Rail Pass, as most of these festivals are just a short stroll away from the nearest train station.
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Ramen Expo (Osaka)
Ramen is well known the world over. In Japan, it is celebrated as one of the country’s most popular foods. Japanese ramen, however, is not limited to the instant noodles and seasoning packets many travelers know as ramen.
Rather, these are rich noodle dishes complete with meats, vegetables, and even cheese. When you attend this festival, be sure to bring your appetite.
- When: Weekends in December, Friday through Sunday, 11 am to 9 pm.
- Where: Banpakukoen Expo Commemoration Park, Osaka, near Banpakukoen Station.
- Admission: Admission is free, but you may purchase tickets that can be exchanged for a bowl of ramen at any of the vendor stalls. Ramen prices range from less than $1.00 to a few dollars (USD).
Furusato Matsuri (Tokyo)
Would you like to experience all of Japan, but your time or budget limit how far you can travel? This Tokyo festival will allow you to taste the best foods that Japan’s various cities have to offer. It is almost like taking a tour of Japan in one day. A portion of the proceeds is donated to disaster relief efforts in Japan.
- When: Second week of January (in 2019, Jan 11 to Jan 20).
- Where: Tokyo Dome, a nine-minute walk from JR Suidobashi Station (on the JR Chuo-Sobu line).
- Admission: 1,000 to 1,500 yen (depending on the time of the day and advance booking).
Sake Spring Kyoto
Sake, a type of rice wine, is one of Japan’s most iconic beverages. At Sake Spring, you can sample from your choice of over 200 sake brands. Traditional food stalls are also available to complement your hot or cold sake.
- When: Last weekend in April, 11 am to 6 pm.
- Where: Kyoto International Conference Center, Kyoto, located near Kokusaikaikan Station.
- Admission: Advanced tickets are ¥3,500 or ¥4,000 at the door. Reduced price tickets are offered in the late afternoon.
Kyushu Beer Festival
If beer is more your style, the Kyushu Beer Festival in Fukuoka is the place to go. You can sample over 20 kinds of craft beers from Japan’s most famous breweries, as well as local delicacies like horse meat sketwers and satsumaage (fried fishcake).
- When: Late May to Early June.
- Where: Maizuru Park, next to Fukuoka Castle, near Ohorikoen Station.
- Admission: Admission is free, and most beers cost around ¥500.
Meguro Sanma Matsuri
Fishing is an important industry in Japan. To mark the start of the sanma fishing season each year, local fisheries give away over 6,000 deliciously grilled Sanma (pacific saury).
- When: The first Sunday in September, beginning at 10 am.
- Where: Meguro Station (JR Yamanote line), Tokyo.
- Admission: Free.
Miyajima Oyster Festival
Home to numerous oyster farms, you will find the freshest oysters on Miyajima Island. The oysters are cooked fresh, and you can enjoy them for as little as ¥100 per dish.
- When: First weekend of February.
- Where: Miyajima Island, Hiroshima. You can take a train from Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi Station, and from there take a ferry to Miyajima Pier.
- Admission: Free.
Mochi is a classic Japanese dessert. Communities across the country celebrate the Lunar New Year with Mochitsuki, or mochi making festivals, where neighbors come together to steam and pound an ample supply of this treat. Food and entertainment are often part of the festivals.
- When: Lunar New Year, a span of two weeks or more in late January to February.
- Where: Nearly every community across Japan.
- Admission: Free.
Where will your next adventure in Japan take you? Take a walk around the neighborhood, or take a train using your JR Pass. Do not be surprised when you find that you cross paths with a unique and traditional matsuri.