Japanese culture is increasingly finding its way into Western art, music, fashion, and film, and the results are frequently spectacular. If you’re a fan of all things Japanese, would like to learn more about the country and its fascinating history, are considering learning the language or even taking a trip to marvel at the annual wonder of the cherry blossoms, then a visit to one of the Japanese festivals held in the US is likely to appeal. 

The immersive experience of a large festival is a great introduction to the Japanese way of life, such as the country’s traditional food, music, and dance – and you’ll have the opportunity to sample some regional sake – authentic Japanese wine made using fermented rice – too!

We explore below the five biggest Japanese festivals that take place annually in the US and what you can expect from a visit to each. Plus, we’ll tell you why, if you are considering the option to learn Japanese, now is the very best time to get started.

Learning Japanese
Learning Japanese

Sakura Matsuri, Washington DC

Let’s kick off our list with the Sakura Matsuri, as it’s the largest Japanese festival in the US. It’s held every year during April’s cherry blossom season when the streets of the nation’s capital turn beautifully pink.

Visit the Sakura Matsuri street festival, and you’re in for a treat. You’ll experience a range of interactive arts: for example, you’ll have the chance to learn some basic Japanese phrases, have a go at traditional painting, and experience a tea ceremony. The Ginza Marketplace is a key element of the festival: here, you can browse and buy a selection of hand-crafted treasures from the province.

The feature exhibits to be unveiled for the 2023 Sakura Matsuri have recently been announced. Visitors can look forward to the Japan Smart Infrastructure Pavilion, where they can experience some spectacular new Japanese tech and devices. The Beyond Tokyo Pavilion: Regions of Japan will offer a unique insight into the regional diversity of the country, while the Culinary Arts exhibit is set to provide festival attendees a taste (literally!) of Japanese cuisine as they watch national and international chefs create a range of stunning dishes. The Sakura Stage is the place to go to see some spectacular culinary arts, such as the Japanese art of fish handling and preparation and onigiri making.

Nisei Week – Los Angeles

A truly epic nine days of festivities kicks off in the Little Tokyo District of Los Angeles every August to celebrate and promote Japanese and Japanese American heritage and to bring a range of diverse communities together. It’s one of the longest-running ethnic festivals in the country.

Immerse yourself in the comprehensive program of Japanese events that includes exhibits, activities, food, and music. The Queen and Court itinerary is aimed to provide cultural enrichment, help with developing leadership skills, and allow participants to network and build strong personal and business connections.

The Queen Coronation is a much-anticipated event, which sees one of the Cherry Blossom Princesses that have been put forward as candidates ascend to the throne as the festival’s queen! There’s also a popular Japanese car show, a grand parade that sees the streets of Little Tokyo come alive with floats, musicians, and dancers, and the Ondo and Closing ceremonies, which honor the Japanese tradition of dancing in the street, as live entertainers provide the music and good vibes.

Chicago Matsuri

Every year, summertime sees Chicago’s hosting of its annual Matsuri, which is made up of three days of celebrations. As well as the delicious Japanese festival food that’s on offer for visitors to savor, you’ll also be treated to performances of Taiko (traditional Japanese drumming), demonstrations of ink painting (Sumi-e), martial arts, cosplay contests, and much more!

Interactive cultural booths are a much-loved part of the Chicago Matsuri – they showcase Japanese games, art, fashion, calligraphy, origami, and film. Japanese film is legendary, and its anime studios have a huge global fanbase of all ages. If a visit to the Matsuri has convinced you to learn the language, and you’re a fan of Japanese film, then you’ll love the news that it’s possible to learn Japanese with anime! Watching subtitled shows and movies in the target language has been proven to be an effective way of starting to get to grips with a new tongue.

Contemporary Japanese culture is celebrated at the festival, too: comedy shows, DJ sets, and eating contests are regular and popular events on its roster.

Japan Festival of Houston

This extremely well-attended festival is held in Hermann Park, Boston, every spring and runs over two days. You’ll get to see a traditional Japanese mikoshi (portable shrine) parade, watch (or even participate in!) a cosplay contest, and see the intricate beauty of a Japanese tea ceremony being carried out.

You can also enjoy contemporary and traditional Japanese theater performances, martial arts displays, and origami and bonsai demonstrations.

Previous years have seen fascinating exhibits from organizations including the Kintetsu International Express (USA), All Nippon Airways (ANA), and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, San Francisco

Taking place over two weekends in April, the festivities include bonsai demonstrations, doll-making, sword-making workshops, and live music, and it attracts over two hundred thousand visitors every year. The celebration culminates in a grand parade on the final day.

Some of the standout events of this year’s festival were the Anime Cosplay Showcase, the Shodo/Calligraphy demonstration, the Oshiro Karate display, and the Mikoshi Purification Ceremony. The latter is conducted by representatives from Japan, as well as spiritual community members of Japantown, and is performed to attract peace and harmony.

If you’re interested in Japanese culture or are considering learning the language or a trip to the country itself, you’ll find a visit to any of the festivals listed above an enriching experience. As well as learning about the country’s history, you’ll also get a feel for contemporary life in Japan and the extent to which its diverse customs and cultures are influencing art, music, theater, film, and dance the world over.

Now is the very best time to learn the Japanese language: immersive and innovative new learning techniques and schedules of study designed to fit around even the busiest of schedules mean that you can fit your learning around your way of life. Attending these festivals with a knowledge of some basic Japanese words and phrases will enrich your experience even more.