My last post, published on the one year anniversary of the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami, linked to a Japanese blog that showed the destroyed town of Rikuzentakata celebrating Natsu-Matsuri, a Summer Festival. Although the town center was flattened the survivors nevertheless organized the event, showing the world, and, most importantly, the local children that their way of life persisted.
Matsuri are local festivals that are central to the culture of Japan. The dates of these annual or biannual celebrations vary from town to town, but they generally are held around traditional holidays, such as Setsubun (held on February 3, the day before the beginning of the Japanese spring) and Obon (a three day Buddhist observance in which ancestors are honored and invited to visit household shrines, taking place in mid July or August, depending on the locale).
Matsuri festivals are well publicized and open to everyone. Traditional and non-traditional food can be bought from the many yatai (food stalls) that are set up to service the crowds. Alcohol is also available and can be publicly consumed, as it can be anywhere in Japan, although unlike the food the yatai prices for beer are usually quite inflated. If you want to drink and keep your expenses down, it is advisable to buy from a convenience store on your way to the festival grounds.
Last summer in Tanabe City, Wakayama Prefecture, my wife and I attended the local Natsu-Matsuri over the course of two evenings, sponsored by and on the grounds of the Toukei Ginja (Toukei Temple) that sits in the middle of town. The following photo album shows the Tanabe City Natsu-Matsuri, and is an exemplary of Japan's many local summer festivals.