1. Nebuta Festival (Aomori)
The Aomori Nebuta Festival is held in Aomori City, and it has been designated as a Significant Intangible Folk Cultural Asset. It involves a parade of more than 20 large lantern floats, known as nebuta, decorated with human figures. Each float is accompanied by haneto dancers who dance wildly to ohayashi festival music while singing “Rassera, rassera!”
The festival begins on August 2 and includes nighttime parades through the 6th, as well as a daytime parade on the 7th. This final night will have a boat parade and a fireworks display, with the entire festival attracting some 4 million visitors.
The related Hirosaki Neputa Festival (August 1-7) takes place an hour away in Hirosaki City. It features 80 lavish floats being paraded through this historic castle town.
2. Kanto Festival (Akita)
Moving south to Akita Prefecture, the Kanto Festival from August 3 to 6 draws over 1 million people in annual attendance.
It begins with a bamboo flute signaling 230 kanto (literally, "rod lantern") poles—some 12 meters (40 ft) long and weighing 50 kilograms (110 lbs)—to be raised at the same time. Their tips are decorated with plaited paper streamers used as Shinto offerings, or gohei, and they're comprised of 46 lanterns.
The shape of the kanto is supposed to resemble an ear of rice. Despite their great weight, they're borne by men who have honed their skills to be able to balance them on their shoulders, hips and hands!
3. Tanabata Festival (Sendai)
Traveling east to Miyagi Prefecture will take you to the Tanabata Festival in the capital city of Sendai. It's attended by over 2 million people, and consists of gorgeous bamboo streamers with seven types of decorations. These decorations have various meanings, such as expressing wishes for good business and sound health.
The festival runs from August 6 to 8, and on August 4, bamboo is selected and cut to make the streamers. The decorations are made months in advance, but they're kept hidden until festival morning, where they're judged in the downtown shopping districts with a winner announced that night.