The three month periodÂ prior to New Year’s represents a phenomenal window of time for visitors to bask in and celebrate the best of Japan. Weather-wise and event-wise, October, November and December herald pristine (if not cool)Â conditions from Hokkaido to the Ryukyu Islands. Hotels in Japan hotspots book up fast in fall, so plan smart.
With that in mind, check out some of the most notable festivals and cultural events in the country between now and late December.
Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages)
When: October 22
Venerable Kyoto is the milieu for this incomparable cultural event. Jidai Matsuri is one of three supreme traditional festivals in the ancient Imperial capital and celebrates 116 years in 2010. Vibrant processions of authentic dress and feudal-era re-enactments on parade draw tens of thousands of observers. Myriad mini-events take place throughout the day and night and all, in some way, relate to Kyoto and Japan’s rich heritage.
Where: Fukuoka Kokusai Center
When: last two weeks of November
Japan has six honbasho, or professional sumo tournaments, throughout the year and each lasts for fifteen days. Amid a flurry of spectator angst and media hype, the honbasho embody the pinnacle of sumo success and indeed, sumo culture and customs. Superb Fukuoka, with a metropolitan population of more than 2.5 million people, is a considerable cosmopolitan hub and the premier city on the island of Kyushu. As a result, the Kyushu Basho elicits untold interest every November.
Shichi-Go-San (“7-5-3″ Festival)
Where: throughout Japan
When: November 15, or proximate weekend
It is darn near-impossible not to melt at the spectacle of innumerable infants clad in traditional dress. This is, in essence, the spirit of Shichi-Go-San, or “7-5-3″. The annual rite of passage event, which has roots in the Heian Period, involves rituals for children of ages 7, 5, and 3, at shrines all over Japan. The particular digits represent good luck in traditional numerology and for proud parents, Shichi-Go-San is a family affair: a day to dress up the little one in kimono garb, take some photos and most importantly, receive prayers for good fortune, long life and success. Special “one thousand years” candy is probably what makes the day so memorable for the kids. For tourists, November 15 is a magnificent day to be a fly on the wall, preferably with a camera in tow, and have your pick of hotels in Tokyo.
Gishisai Chushingura (“47 Ronin” Re-enactment Festival)
Where: Ako, Hyogo Prefecture
When: December 15
As the site of Japan’s most infamous national legend, the small city of Ako in Hyogo Prefecture is a perennial magnet for history and cultural buffs, both domestic and international. The story of the “47 Ronin” – or alternatively, “47 Samurai”, “Ako vendetta”, or “Genroku Ako incident” – is so indelibly woven into Japan’s dramatic mythology, it permeates ballets, plays, poems, opera, films (look for a 2012 Hollywood version with Keanu Reeves) and manga. Every December 14, the town re-creates the Chushingura narrative of 1703 with much pomp, drama and swagger.