The original meaning of Japanese word “Matsuri (meaning “festival”)” is “to respect and worship the sacred existence” so to welcome Gods, make an offering to the Gods and ask for protection of people livings. But those shrine festivals are not too sacred and weighty, rather, it’s all festive. There will be many stalls out along the approach and typically, people will participate in carrying the portable shrine or watch fireworks etc..
And one very iconic thing of festivals in Japan is the “Mikoshi”, a box-like portable shrine people carry together. This is said to be the vehicle Gods ride upon leaving the shrine. In carrying this sacred subject, people shake it wildly over their shoulders and that’s to rejuvenate the Gods spirit.
Because local communities value personal relationships, a total stranger joining the carrying of Mikoshi is not really a realist thing. Observing it as an audience is totally no problem. Typically, the carrying can be done only by shrine parishioners called “Ujiko” or someone , you need to build relationship with someone who is a regular to the event, then get referred by that person.
Those below are shrine festivals you will be able to enjoy fully even if you cannot be a part of that carrying of mikoshi as a carrier.
＜Kanda-sai (Kanda Festival)＞
Kanda-sai is held at Kanda Myojin shrine. They have one of the largest mikoshi in Kanto region. People will carry mikoshi around the whole neighborhood area including Kanda with Kanda-Jinbocho at its center, or Nihonbashi where many long-established stores and department stores stand side by side.
Timing： Mid May of odd years (of Christian year)
Location： 2-16-2 Soto-kanda, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo (Kanda Myojin shrine)
＜Hachioji Matsuri (Hachioji Festival)＞
It’s held every summer and 700,000 people visit annually. The mikoshi of Taga-jinja shrine was constructed in 1882, in Asakusa, Tokyo and it’s carried by 1600 people.
Location： North Exit of Hachioji-station ～ Nishi Houshasen U-Road
＜Kyoto Gion-sai (Gion Festival)＞
Festival run by Yasaka-jinja shrine in Kyoto. It’s a festival of more than 1000 years history. Their mikoshi leaves the shrine in the evening of 17th July (for Jinko-sai festival) and in the evening of 24th July (for Kanko-sai festival) and goes around inside the city till very late night.
Timing： 1st-31st July, every year
Location： 625 Kitagawa, Gion-machi, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto (Yasaka Jinja shrine)