Sun, Sea and Matsuri: July Events in Osaka

Summer is almost upon us once again. So, it’s time to look ahead to Osaka in July. It’s a busy time both for tourists and locals. All manner of events, to suit a variety of budgets and interests take place across the city and beyond throughout the month of July.

In all honesty, this has been one of the trickiest lists to curate so far. There’s just so much going on in the greater Osaka area during July. Narrowing it down to just 10 events was a genuine challenge. But, hopefully we’ve put together an engaging selection for you today. So, without further delay, here’s our rundown of the top 10 things to see and do in and around Osaka in July.

The Umeda Tanabata Festival, July 7th, Umeda Sky Building

a small part of the Tanabata display at Umeda Sky Building.

The festival itself runs from June until August. However, the celebrations reach their peak on July 7th, the traditional date on the Chinese calendar for the original festival from which this event originates. Umeda Sky Building is the venue as colourful displays decorate the courtyard of the two tower blocks that comprise the building’s main structure.

The origins of the Tanabata festival are actually astrological in nature. The Tanabata legend centers around two lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi, literal star-crossed lovers, separated by the entirety of the Milky Way galaxy. However, on the seventh night, of the seventh month, for that one evening per year, they are allowed to meet.

Tanabata events take place all across Japan, but Umeda’s Tanabata Festival is definitely the best of what Osaka has to offer when it comes to this special and sacred event.

Entry to the festival area is free. If you want to take a tour to the rooftop Sky Garden of the Sky Building while you are there, then that will cost an additional 1,500 yen per person. The panoramic views of Osaka and its surroundings are more than worth it, particularly around sunset.

The Umeda Sky Building is about 10 minutes’ walk from JR Osaka Station.

Senshu Beach Lantern Festival, July 6th and 7th, Sennan Rinku Park

The lantern Matsuri at Senshu Beach.

The place of lanterns in Japanese rituals and folklore goes back centuries. For some, they represent the warding off of evil spirts. For others, they represent renewal, rebirth, or a reaffirmation of one’s purpose.

In any case, going to a lantern festival should definitely be on your to-do list while you visit Japan. The ocean breeze, palm trees and more than 1,000 decorated lanterns make the Senshu Beach Lantern Festival really stand out from the crowd. Sennan Rinku Park is the venue for this two day event. For a small additional fee, you can even bring your own lantern to use in the festival. Some take this opportunity to write a wish inside the lantern. Who knows, if you’re lucky, it might even come true! Details on how to buy your own lantern for the event can be found here.

Japan International Birdman Rally, July 29th and 30th, Shiga

One of the competitors at the 2023 Birdman Rally.

Back in 1978, the tagline for Christopher Reeve’s first big screen appearance as Superman was “You’ll believe a man can fly.” Well, today a small group of determined if perhaps somewhat eccentric individuals continue to emulate that dream, or at least try to.

The Japan International Birdman Rally is an annual gathering at Lake Biwa, about 45 minutes from Osaka City. Here, various competitors try to defy gravity using their own homemade contraptions. There are two categories of competition: glider and manual propeller.

The event’s current gliding record is an impressive 533 meters. However, the current best performer in the manual propeller category managed a whopping 36,868 meters.

The event takes place at the Matsubara Swimming Pool, on the shores of Lake Biwa. Admission is free. However, you’ll need to be up bright and early to catch the action. Saturday’s show kicks off at 7.30 am, with a 6am start on the Sunday.

Sake Spring Kyoto, First or Second Weekend of July, Kyoto

Nothing beats a chilled glass of Nihonshu on a hot summer day in Kyoto.

Anyone fancy a drink?

Well, if like many of us, the occasionally oppressive heat and humidity of the Japanese summer leaves you parched, then we have the perfect solution for you. Just head on over to Kyoto. Sake Spring Kyoto, is an annual Sake fair, giving visitors the chance to sample Japanese rice wines from across the nation.

And it doesn’t stop there. There’s a lot more to this event than just the famous “Nihonshu”. With over 50 breweries taking part, there will be a huge variety of drinks both alcoholic and otherwise on offer. Additionally, more than 20 restaurants from the Osaka/Kyoto area will be on hand to ensure you’re not drinking on an empty stomach.

The event operates a coupon system which you can use to redeem food and drinks.

A 5 coupon ticket costs 1,480 yen, or you can get 15 coupons for 2,940 yen.

The exact time and location of the event will be confirmed nearer the time, so please check the official site for details.

As always, please drink responsibly!

Gion Matsuri, Kyoto July 1st to 31st, various locations across Kyoto

The Gion Matsuri, one of Japan’s most famous events.

Next, we stay in Japan’s former Imperial capital, for a festival so large, it takes an entire month to accommodate it. The Gion Matsuri is, to more accurately describe it, a series of festivals, interconnected by an overriding theme. The “main event” for want of a better phrasing, is the parades that take place over two nights on the 16th and 17th of July.

The parade on the 16th is known as the Yoiyama. At this time entire streets of the city center are closed to traffic, to make way for stalls, parades, dancing and other entertainment. The next day is the time of the Yamahoko Junko, otherwise known in English as the “First Float Procession”. Although these two events are the main draw for tourists, once the festival atmosphere kicks into gear, from July 10th onwards, there are things to see and do across the city from then on until the end of July.

Gion Matsuri is one of Japan’s most famous, colorful but also busy events. It is definitely something we should all experience at least once during our travels in Japan. However, be prepared for busy crowds, long queues and plenty of loud, but nonetheless joyful, noise.

Tenjin Matsuri, July 24th and 25th, Various Locations

The Tenjin Matsuri in all its glory.

Of course, not to be outdone by its more highly-strung neighbor, Osaka too has its own flagship festive event in July. The Tenjin Matsuri is, for many residents of Osaka, the highlight of the year. Alongside Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri, and the Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo, Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri is considered one of Japan’s top 3 summer festivals. The festival takes place over two days. The undoubted highlight of the city-wide festivities however is the river procession and fireworks on the evening of July 25th.

A street parade takes place from 3.30pm on the afternoon of the 25th as something of an appetizer for the main course, fireworks from the river.

Here, crowds throng the riverbanks along the route, which spans a significant portion of the Okawa River. The display usually begins around 7.30pm and runs until 9.00pm. However, for the thousands in attendance, the revelry often continues well into the night.

There are tickets available for various viewing spots along the river. These vary from as low as 3,000 yen to over 30,000 yen. However, in all honesty, I would advise you to just get there early, bring along plenty of food and drinks, and scout out a free spot for yourself. It will be very crowded, but for such a spectacular show, it’s more than worth it.

Minato Matsuri Fireworks, late July, Wakayama City

Wakayama’s Minato Matsuri spares no expense with the pyrotechnics.

Of course, Osaka City doesn’t have the monopoly on special fireworks displays for summer. In neighboring Wakayama they have their own summer firework festival too, the Minato Matsuri. What makes this event a little different is its location. The waterfront at Wakayama City’s main port allows for lots of food stalls and other amenities. Additionally, the lack of any buildings getting in the way makes it a lot easier to enjoy the view as well.

For more details on the exact timing of this year’s Minato Matsuri, be sure to check the event’s official English homepage regularly.

Minato Maizuru Chatta Festival, July 28th, Maizuru, Kyoto

The gorgeous coastline of Maizuru creates the perfect backdrop for their annual matsuri.

This, the last of our series of firework festivals across the region in July, might just be the best. Maizuru City, in Kyoto Prefecture is definitely a bit out of the way compared to our other entries here. Getting there by a combination of bus and car from downtown Osaka will take about 2 hours, but it’s definitely a worthwhile venture.

Much like the aforementioned Minato Matsuri in Wakayama, Maizuru’s Chatta festival takes full advantage of the city’s unique geography. The bay, with its rocky coves and numerous small islands forms the perfect backdrop for the spectacular, ship-mounted, fireworks that conclude this lesser known, but nonetheless highly energetic festival. And best of all, entry is free, provided you can get there.

Daigaku Lantern Festival, July 24th and 25th, Ikune Shrine

The Lanterns of the Daigaku Matsuri at Ikune Shrine

Let’s be honest. Not many of us are thankful for Japan’s hot, humid and uncomfortable rainy season, which usually hits in mid-June. However, its vital role in Japan’s annual agricultural cycle is undeniable. So, since the year 858 AD, Ikune Shrine, adjacent to the better known Sumiyoshi Taisha (more on that in a moment), has held a festival to give thanks for the rains, and the bountiful harvest that comes in their wake.

The festival derives its name from the structure that houses its collection of 79 colored lanterns. The daigaku and its adorning lanterns form the centerpiece of this lively and highly community orientated festival.

Locally run food stalls, dances and game for children make this an event for all the family. It also has a far more grounded and organic feel to it than some of the larger summer festivals, many of which have been jaded by the overreach of commercial interests in recent years. The Daigaku Lantern Festival, is a fun, family friendly event, which still remains true to its roots.

Sumiyoshi Matsuri, July 30th to August 1st

Participants in Sumiyoshi’s summer matsuri, complete with their Muromachi Period costumes.

We round off today’s guide with what many would call the jewel in Osaka’s summer event crown. The Sumiyoshi Matsuri may not have the largest attendance numbers or the biggest budget, but it’s still a source of tremendous pride and sacred respect for the people of Osaka. Unlike many of the other festivals featured in today’s list, which are about giving thanks or simply celebrating, the Sumiyoshi Matsuri is an Oharae, a form of purification festival.

Taking place on the cusp of the end of the 7th month and beginning of the 8th month of the year, the festival looks ahead to the sometimes challenging autumn and winter to come. The prayers and rituals performed seek to cleanse the participants of any disease, sickness or impurities and leave them in the best possible state of physical, mental and spiritual health for the months ahead.

The main focus of the festival is the summer purification festival, held on July 31st. The colourful costumes of the many participants in the parade derive from Japan’s Muromachi Period. That’s from 1336 to 1573 on the western calendar. So, as you can see, this is a festival not just with a strong spiritual significance but also a deep, historical impact. It’s not to be missed.

And with this, our list of Osaka’s top ten July events and activities draws to a close. So which events caught your fancy? Did we miss out any of your favorites? If you’ve got any questions or perhaps some suggestions for folks planning to take in the summer in Osaka this year, then please leave a comment, and tell your friends to go and enjoy Osaka this summer!


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