Our History & Matsuri in Japan

Bringing Nikkei Matsuri to Burnaby

A “matsuri” (meaning festival) has long been part of the cultural landscape of the Japanese community, not only in Japan but in many cities across North America. In 2013, the inaugural Nikkei Matsuri was held at Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre (NNMCC), bringing an authentic Japanese festival experience to Burnaby. It is a celebration of Japanese arts and culture through food, music, entertainment, Japanese-style kids games and more. Prior to the pandemic, we annually welcomed over 14,000+ people to enjoy the many festivities Nikkei Matsuri has to offer.

Nikkei Matsuri is one of the many ways the NNMCC is working to fulfil its mission to honour, preserve, and share Japanese culture and Japanese Canadian history and heritage for a better Canada. All proceeds support the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre.

This festival is made possible by the efforts of our hardworking staff, volunteers, and the generous support of corporate sponsors and donors. Together, we are able to bring rich cultural experiences to all ages year after year.

日系祭りはスタッフ、ボランティア、スポンサー、ドナーほかのご協力により成り立っております。幅広い年齢の皆さんにお祭り文化をお届けします。

The History of Matsuri in Japan

The original matsuri in Japan is a ceremony to thank, pray, and commemorate gods, ancestors, and Buddha. There are many types of Matsuri: it can be a celebration to offer thanks for a large catch of fish, good business, health of a family, prosperity, and many more. During the event season, the focus of the Matsuri varies from region to region.

A typical Matsuri hosted by a Shinto Shrine or Buddhist Temple has local people carrying mikoshi, which represents the guardian god. These participants wear happi coats, and dance along (bon-odori dance) with the parade. Today, matsuri is held to unite the community through an event that brings young and old together. Hundreds of small and large matsuri happen throughout the year in Japan.

A matsuri has two aspects – one is a strict religious ritual and the other is a merrymaking celebration that allows the people carrying mikoshi to wear fundoshi (loincloth).

Mikoshi

In the Shinto religion, the Shinto spirit rests in the Shinto shrine. During matsuri time, the Shinto spirit gets carried in the portable shrine, or mikoshi.

Bon-Odori Dance
The Bon-odori dance is held to honour a departed soul. Bon is a midsummer Buddhist celebration honouring the souls of the dead. Members of the local community perform the Bon-odori dance around the yagura, which is set up in the centre of the matsuri.

Yagura

A tower set up in the centre of a plaza at the matsuri. People play music on the yagura.

Happi Coat

The traditional clothing worn at a matsuri is a knee- or hip-length top coat with long sleeves. It normally has a family, group, or town emblem on the back, chest, or on the collar. Happi coats are also worn at company promotions, and can also be a uniform for firefighters.

Photo by Geoff Chen Photography

Shishi-Mai (Lion Dance)

In Shishi-mai, or lion dance, a dancer dances around the matsuri wearing a lion head. Originally, this dance was used to ward off the plague and devils. Since the Edo period, it has been considered a lucky dance, and today it is performed at many festivals.