Most visitors to Himeji City are drawn there because of the beautiful Himeji Castle and Engyoji Temple on Mount Shosha, but did you know there is another attraction Himeji is known for, which draws over 200,000 visitors to Hyogo’s second largest city? It is the Himeji Yukata Matsuri, which takes place in late June. The tradition goes back to a ceremony that took place about 260 years ago when the lord of Himeji Castle moved the Osakabe Shrine to downtown Himeji. Himeji Castle was built on the former grounds of the shrine, therefore, common folks could not visit or pray at the shrine. Moving the shrine to downtown Himeji meant that everyone could easily have access to the shrine and a celebration ensued. However, the ceremony took place on such short notice that the citizens of Himeji did not have enough time or money to prepare their formal kimonos. Instead, they were permitted to wear their summer yukatas and thus the Yukata Festival began.
In the beginning, the event was simply referred to as the Yukata Matsuri but since more and more yukata festivals were popping up across Japan, it was eventually renamed the Himeji Yukata Matsuri. The event runs three days and consists of a yukata parade, a yukata fashion show and various live dance and musical performances. It is considered the oldest and largest festival of its type in Japan with over 800 vendors. You can even gain free access to Himeji Castle if you are dressed in a yukata!
The yukata differs from the kimono in that it is made from a light cotton material with bright colors and patterns and is typically worn during the summer months. Although it is common to see men and women wearing yukatas during the summer festivals, the garment represents the main component of this particular festival and it is estimated that 70% of all festival goers at the Himeji Yukata Matsuri attend wearing their yukatas. Of course, if you do not own a yukata, you can rent one at the Jokamachi Style shop near Himeji Castle as well as other places around town.
The festival runs from 4:30 PM to 9:30 PM and is free to attend. Access to the festival is relatively easy as the city lies along the Sanyo Shinkansen line. The destination is approximately 40 minutes from Kobe and 3 hours away from Tokyo.
Address: 33 Tatemachi, Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture 670-0903