When you hear “Himeji” you probably think of the beautiful “Himeji Castle” which is certainly what Himeji is most famous for. However, there are a lot of other things to discover and enjoy!
One of them is the annual “Himeji Yukata Festival” (姫路ゆかたまつり) that takes place in late June.
Note: 2020 it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 situation.
What is the Himeji Yukata Festival?
The Himeji Yukata Matsuri takes place every June in Himeji City (Hyogo Prefecture map) near the famous Himeji Castle.
The city – and especially the castle – is well worth a day trip from nearby Kyoto.
The festival is for the local god of Himeyama of Osakabe Shrine (長壁神社). The tradition goes back to a ceremony that took place about 260 years ago.
At that time Himeji Castle was already built on the former grounds of Osakabe Shrine. Common people couldn’t visit and pray at the shrine anymore. The lord of Himeji Castle at that time, Masamine Sakaibara, then moved the shrine from the hill to downtown Himeji so that everyone could easily access it.
A ceremony was held in summer to celebrate the moving of the shrine. As this took place on a very short note the citizens of Himeji neither had enough time nor money to get their formal kimono ready. Instead, they were allowed to wear their yukata which wasn’t something you could wear in public at that time. This was the origin of the yukata festival.
At first, it was simply called “Yukata Matsuri“, but then more and more “yukata festivals” kept popping up everywhere in Japan and it was finally renamed to “Himeji Yukata Matsuri“.
Why you should visit the Himeji Yukata Festival
With around 200,000 visitors and around 800 food stands it is said to be the biggest festival of this kind in Western Japan.
Not only will you see many Japanese girls and women wearing colorful yukata, but there are also several events you can enjoy such as a yukata parade, a yukata fashion show and various dance and music performances on stage.
You can hang out with friends or eat delicious Japanese food at one of the food stands.
Check the latest fashion trends
Yukata (浴衣) designs and colors have changed a lot in the past decades.
Most younger people didn’t like traditional wear, but with trendy colors and cute designs, it has become very popular again.
The Himeji Yukata Festival is a great opportunity to check out the latest fashion trends.
As you can see in the photos above flower prints as well as black, lilac and pink are trending. Also, pajama-style yukata seem to be popular.
At most summer festivals you’ll notice that the majority of women wear yukata, but most men dress casually.
However, there are some rare male examples who do dress up and look quite cool doing so – as you can see in the above photos.
Another reason why yukata have become popular again is that there are several ways to save time when dressing up. A lot of girls just buy a “ready-to-go” obi. With those, you don’t have to be able to tie the obi into a ribbon. It’s already done and you just attach it.
Even the little ones love to dress up with all the newer style of yukata that came up recently.
Visit tourist spots in Himeji for free
Another good reason for visiting the Himeji Yukata Festival is that several facilities will be free of charge during that period:
- Kokoen Garden
- Himeji City Zoo
- Himeji City Museum of Art
- Hyogo Prefectural Museum of History
- Himeji City Museum of Literature
Also, the Shinki Bus (神姫バス, Himeji City Bus) will cost only half and the shops in the shopping arcade leading from the train station to Himeji Castle will offer a lot of discounts. It’s also a great chance to buy a cute yukata for cheap!
Source: Japanese Wikipedia
Another great thing about the Himeji Yukata Matsuri is that it’s held near the magnificent Himeji Castle – the most beautiful castle in Japan if you ask me.
You can take great photos of Japanese people wearing colorful yukata with the castle in the background. Unfortunately, it was still undergoing renovation when I took these photos in June 2012 and 2013. The renovation lasted until spring 2015. You can now enjoy the castle in its full beauty again.
Enjoy a typical Japanese festival atmosphere
Japanese summer festivals have a great atmosphere. It’s really hard to convey via photos, so I also made a video.
But honestly, you should experience such an atmosphere yourself!
There are many things you can enjoy, especially if you’re with kids. Very popular are “catching games” where you’re trying to catch e.g. fish or balls. The goldfish you can take home with you. The balls you can exchange for little prizes. There are also things such as a shooting gallery or a haunted house.
Towards the end of June when rainy season is over, it tends to get really hot. Shops use this chance to hand out uchiwa (Japanese fans) with their advertisement printed on them. On the very left fan you can see “Shiromaruhime“, the cute mascot of Himeji City. It’s a great opportunity for you to grab a nice Japan sourvenir for free!
Himeji Yukata Festival Visitors’ Information
If you consider going, then you can combine it with a visit of Himeji Castle and some other sightseeing spots I mentioned above that will be free of charge during the festival.
The Himeji Yukata Matsuri won’t start before 4:30 pm, so you can spend the morning and early afternoon with sightseeing. You can easily reach the festival itself as well as all mentioned sightseeing spots from JR Himeji Station. All of them are just a short walk away and you might also want to stroll through the shopping arcade that leads from the station to the castle and see if you can find any discounted products or even a nice yukata.