The new year is a huge deal in Japan, and businesses sometimes close between January 1–3. In order to start the year off in an auspicious way, many locals visit shrines and temples to participate in new year's ceremonies. Temples are crowded during this time, but visiting will offer a great insight into local customs and traditions.
Sapporo Winter Festival
Held every February since 1950, this festival features hundreds of statues and ice sculptures, snow slides and mazes, regional food and artistic performances. Winter in Japan is truly amazing, and the Sapporo Winter Festival is a magical way to celebrate.
Head to Okayama to watch thousands of men wearing nothing but loincloths vie to touch the chosen 'naked man'. It may look like a bizarre male-bonding exercise but it's actually a historic cleansing ritual dating back thousands of years.
Billed as 'Japan's biggest anime festival' this celebration of the outrageously popular animation style is the perfect place to immerse yourself in anime culture. The two-day public festival (the other two days are only open to industry insiders) is full of cosplay, interviews with artists and developers, merch galore and much more.
There are a number of local celebrations that occur in late April to early May that, as they happen so close together, form a sort of informal holiday period for Japanese people. That means tourist spots can be crowded and accommodation can book out early for this period.
Fuji Rock Festival
Held annually in the stunning surrounds of the Naeba Ski Resort, this outdoor music festival is huge and draws in big-name acts and local bands. Thousands of music lovers flock to Naeba for three days of camping, music and summer partying.
This Buddhist festival honours the dead in a number of ways, from lighting lanterns for ancestral spirits to cleaning the graves of deceased family members. You can also expect carnivals to pop up in major cities during this time.