Japanese Autumn Festivals Across the United States

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Arts Japan 2020 is an online celebration of Japan-related cultural programs across the United States. This preview features a representative sample of upcoming Japan-related festivals. To recommend other programs for Arts Japan 2020 to feature, click here. For a directory of organizations that create, present and support Japan-related programs in the U.S., click here.

Aki Matsuri festivals across the United States celebrate the arrival of autumn and offer opportunities to explore Japanese arts, traditions, food and culture. Aki Matsuri is rooted in Shinto practice; traditional Aki Matsuri ceremonies use music, dance, prayer and offerings of food and rice wine to thank the kami (or Shinto spirits) for a fruitful rice harvest. The holiday is also an occasion to pray for the continued well-being of the community.

Aki Matsuri festivals in the United States incorporate these traditions, and also feature a range of Japanese cultural activities, performances and demonstrations. This September and October, you can experience an iconic lantern floating ceremony at the Morikami Gardens in Delray Beach, Florida; explore the culture of Osaka during the Aki Matsuri festival of its sister city, San Francisco; learn the nuances of quick-draw swordsmanship from a world-renowned Iaijutsu master at the Kansas City Japan Festival in Missouri; discover the craft of amezaiku (candy sculpting) at Memphis Japan Festival in Tennessee; and enjoy a preview of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics during Atlanta’s JapanFest.

The details and links below will guide you to autumn festivals in California, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico and Tennessee. The listings are by state, with a chronological directory of events at the end of the article.


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Osaka Matsuri Fall Festival: https://japancentersf.com/events/osaka-matsuri/
September 28
San Francisco

Aki Matsuri Fall Festival: https://japancentersf.com/events/2019-aki-matsuri-fall-festival/
October 19
San Francisco

Two vibrant Aki Matsuri celebrations take place each fall in San Francisco’s historic Japantown. On September 28, celebrate the food and music of Osaka (San Francisco’s sister city) during the Osaka Matsuri celebration in Japantown’s Peace Plaza. Highlights include Japanese dance, shamisen performances, tastings of Osaka cuisine (including okonomiyaki and takoyaki) and opportunities to wear yukata (Japanese festival attire). Musicians will perform both traditional and contemporary Japanese tunes. Learn more at https://japancentersf.com/events/osaka-matsuri/.

Then on October 19, an Aki Matsuri festival will feature taiko drumming, the beauty of classical Japanese dance, and the precision of kendo (the way of the sword) as well as other martial arts. This annual event includes demonstrations and workshops on origami, shodo (traditional Japanese calligraphy) and ningyo (Japanese paper doll making), plus Japanese crafts and tasty food and drink. For details, visit https://japancentersf.com/events/2019-aki-matsuri-fall-festival/.


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Lantern Festival: https://morikami.org/cultural-programs/lantern-festival/
Delray Beach
October 19

The picturesque Morikami Gardens hosts an annual Lantern Festival, which embodies the spirit of Obon – Japan’s homage to ancestors who return for a brief visit to the living. The garden is an enchanted setting, with 16 acres of greenery that reflect major periods of Japanese garden design, from the eighth through the twentieth century. Walk the grounds and enjoy traditional folk-dancing, taiko drumming, the Ennichi (festival day) street fair, children’s activities and Japanese food and drink. The festival culminates with a beautiful lantern floating ceremony and fireworks. Learn more at https://morikami.org/cultural-programs/lantern-festival/.


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JapanFest: https://www.japanfest.org/
September 21-22

Atlanta’s 33rd annual JapanFest will get you revved up for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. With twenty-five performers and workshops and over 120 vendors, this vibrant festival immerses visitors in the traditions, natural beauty and pop culture of Japan. You’ll find an anime village, sword and martial arts exhibitions, a Japanese art studio, ikebana flower arranging, bonsai, calligraphy, a tea ceremony, sake and beer garden, children’s playland, and the Ginza Dori (main street) for Japanese foods and goods. Check out https://www.japanfest.org/ for more information.


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Kansas City Japan Festival: https://www.kcjapanfestival.org/
Kansas City
October 5

The 21st Greater Kansas City Japan Festival offers the rare chance to see in-person performances by world-renowned masters of Japanese arts. Isao Machii, a master of the quick-draw sword technique Iaijutsu (and a holder of six Guinness World Records for katana techniques) will illustrate and explain the art of Iaijutsu. Shakuhachi master David Kansuke Wheeler will teach attendees how to play the bamboo flute; master artist Yoko Hiraoka will perform on the shamisen, koto and biwa; and a variety of lectures and workshops will illuminate the history of the samurai sword, the kimono, Japanese walking pilgrimages, tea ceremonies, garden design and bonsai. Additional activities include taiko drumming, traditional and modern Japanese dance, Japanese pop music, a children’s parade, and much more. See details at https://www.kcjapanfestival.org/ .



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Aki Matsuri: https://www.akimatsurinv.com/
Las Vegas
October 26

This annual Aki Matsuri celebration is the largest Japanese community event in Las Vegas. It features a wide range of traditional and contemporary Japanese cultural activities, including Bon Odori dance, martial arts demonstrations, a karaoke contest, taiko drumming, cosplay, sake tasting, Japanese food and an avenue of vendors who offer Japanese goods.

Featured performers from Japan will include the Menkoi Girls, Puppetion and Soul Splash Crew. This free event - which attracts more then 10,000 people each year - includes many activities for attendees of all ages. Visit https://www.akimatsurinv.com/ for additional information.


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Aki Matsuri Fall Festival: https://nmjacl.org/aki-matsuri/
September 22

This fall festival attracts guests and performers from around New Mexico and beyond, who showcase traditional Japanese dance, musical performances, martial arts, cultural exhibits and crafts. Japanese food, sake and beer are served throughout the festival. Sign up early to enter the ramen eating competition (which features both team and individual ramen contests).

The New Mexico Japanese-American Citizens League has hosted an annual Aki Matsuri celebration for over twenty years. Proceeds from the festival benefit the League’s ongoing efforts to document events and history related to Japanese-American internment in New Mexico and the southwest, and to build a cultural center. Learn more at https://nmjacl.org/aki-matsuri/.



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Memphis Japan Festival: http://www.memphisjapanfestival.org/ 
September 29

Celebrate the history, culture, and people of Japan at this spirited festival. The many interactive activities include cosplay contests, a Japanese street fashion show and sumo-suit wrestling. Check out the festival’s Japanese Culture Camp, exciting martial arts demonstrations on the lawn, and musical performances. Children can enjoy a Pokémon Go tournament, a crafting tent, bounce houses, and Japanese toys and games. Keep an eye out for the Candyman, Masaji Terasawa, who is one of the only U.S.-based practitioners of the ancient Japanese art of amezaiku, the sculpting of hot taffy into the shapes of animals. For details, see http://www.memphisjapanfestival.org/ .


This is a representative sample of upcoming programs. Don’t see your favorite program on the list? Tell us about it here.





Atlanta, GA
September 21-22


Aki Matsuri Fall Festival
Albuquerque, NM
September 22

Osaka Matsuri Fall Festival
San Francisco, CA
September 28

Memphis Japan Festival
Memphis, TN
September 29


Kansas City Japan Festival
Kansas City, MO
October 5


Aki Matsuri Fall Festival
San Francisco, CA
October 19


Lantern Festival
Delray Beach, FL
October 19

Aki Matsuri
Las Vegas, NV
October 26


Arts Japan 2020 is a program of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission (JUSFC) and is proposed by the Arts Dialogue Committee of the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON). Learn more about us and the events we feature at artsjapan.us.

Daniel Gallant