Summer’s Here! What are the festivals in Japan to visit?

The scattered isles of the Japanese archipelago play host to all manner of festivals, from annual head-banging rock music parties to beard-stroking art installations.

We decided to make an non-definitive list of festivals. Note before you start scrolling down, we’ve stayed clear of traditional arts and open-call contests for the most part, as well as art fairs, expos and so on. This is a really select list — in particular, the choice of music fests is very limited — but we hope it will still prove useful in showing the sheer variety of events happening around the country.

So here they are, in order of start dates.

Art Festivals

Asahi Art Festival (Tokyo)
Asahi has long been a patron of the arts, including the Asahi Art Square in Asakusa. This annual festival gathers arts groups from all over Japan for a series of events.
June 13th to October 14th, 2013

Dojima River Biennale (Osaka)
Artistically returning some status to Dojima River, once a major center in Osaka.
July 20th to August 18th, 2013

Setouchi Triennale (Setouchi Inland Sea)
Numerous art installations and events dotted around the islands between Honshu and Shikoku.
July 20th to September 1st, and October 5th to November 4th, 2013

setouchi art festival japan

Aichi Triennale (Nagoya)
A mixed program of art, performances, opera and films argues that there’s more to the Aichi area than just automobile manufacturing.
August 10th to October 27th, 2013

Nakanojo Biennale (Gunma)
Exhibitions, installations, performances and workshops in over thirty locations in a hot spring resort.
September 13th to October 14th, 2013

Towada Oirase Art Festival (Aomori)
This brand new festival will feature the likes of Lieko Shiga, Akira Takayama, Aiko Miyanaga and contact Gonzo.
September 21st to November 24th, 2013

Kobe Biennale (Kobe)
Osaka’s classy neighbor now has its own seaside arts festival.
October 1st to December 1st, 2013

Musashino Art University Art Festival (Tokyo)
Festival run by students from one of Japan’s leading art colleges.
October 26th to 28th, 2013

Tama Art University Art Festival (Tokyo)
Another event by an art college that takes place on the campus in west Tokyo.
November 2nd to 4th, 2013

Ube Biennale International Open Sculpture Competition (Yamaguchi)
This festival right in the south of Honshu features contemporary sculptures out in the open.
Happening next: autumn 2013

Japan Media Arts Festival (Japan)
This exhibition showcases the best in media arts entered for consideration from around the globe, divided by genre.
Happening next: February 2014

Roppongi Art Night (Tokyo)
An all-nighter in Roppongi isn’t usually something to bring the kids along to — but this annual March art carnival is rather different and certainly created with families in mind.
Happening next: TBA

Yokohama Triennale (Yokohama)
Tokyo’s neighbor plays host every three years to a bonanza of art from around the world.
August 1st to November 3rd, 2014

Echigo-Tsumari Art Field (Niigata)
Art installations among the rice paddies in this very rural festival.
Happening next: 2015


Film Festivals

Tokyo International Film Festival (Tokyo)
Love it or hate it, this is indisputably Japan’s biggest movie fest.
October 17th to 25th

Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (Yamagata)
The country’s top event for serious documentary fans.
October 10th to 17th, 2013

Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival (Hokkaido)
This ambitious film festival takes places in the snow of northern Japan.
Happening next: February 21st to 25th, 2014

Tokyo FILMeX (Tokyo)
Japan’s best international independent film festival makes a nice antidote to the almost concurrent TIFF.
Happening next: TBA

Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions (Tokyo)
Video art and film installations dominate this urban festival in Ebisu that usually takes place in February.
Happpening next: TBA

Okinawa International Movie Festival (Okinawa)
A sun-soaked, optimistic blend of movies every March. The emphasis is on comedy, not surprisingly since it is run by Yoshimoto Kogyo.
Happening next: TBA

Rock Music

Fuji Rock (Niigata)
This fest is a real mixed bag but always features many foreign headliners.
July 26th to 28th, 2013

Summer Sonic (Chiba)
The biggest music fest of its kind within day-trip distance from Tokyo.
August 10th to 11th, 2013

Metamorphose (usually in Shizuoka)
This music festival happens every two years and has in the past featured the likes of The Flaming Lips, Mogwai and Tavito Nanao.
Happening next: TBA


Classic Music

Saito Kinen Festival (Nagano)
Founded by Seiji Ozawa in 1992, this is a summer treat for classical music fans in the castle town of Matsumoto.
August 12th to September 7th, 2013

La Folle Journée au Japon (Tokyo)
The annual classical music extravanganza is a spin-off from the festival held in Nantes. Some 300 concerts and events take place at the Tokyo International Forum and Marunouchi area.
Happening next: May 2014

Jazz Festivals

Tokyo Jazz Festival (Tokyo)
Japan’s biggest jazz fest always features lots of international veterans.
September 6th to 8th, 2013

Other Music

Earth Celebration (Sado Island, Niigata)
Taiko drum ensembles, music and performing arts in the incredible setting of Sado Island.
August 23rd to 25th, 2013 (main concerts)

Asagiri Jam (Shizuoka)
Pitch your tent up at Mt. Fuji for this ecclectic music fest.
October 6th to 7th, 2013


Performing Arts

Kyoto Experiment (Kyoto)
Kyoto might well be the center of Japanese traditional arts, but it also has this relatively new annual international performing arts festival too.
September 28th to October 27th, 2013

Festival/Tokyo (Tokyo)
Japan’s leading performing arts event, an annual festival mainly in the Ikebukuro area showcasing domestic and international theatre and dance.
November 9th to December 8th, 2013

Dance Triennale (Tokyo)
Japan’s leading dance event brings together leaders from the dance scenes in countries from all over the world, though it focuses mostly on small-scale performances.
Happening next: 2015

All right, if anyone’s fuming now because we didn’t include their favorite Kyushu folktronica fest, we did warn you that this is a very finite list! There are just so many other events and festivals out there. Which do you recommend?