While many of Japan's larger festivals get attention for their fireworks displays, mikoshi (portable, hand-carried shrines), dances and light displays, there are thousands of local festivals, representing small shrines or neighborhoods, which are largely unknown except by the locals who attend them. One that we like is our neighborhood festival, which represents maybe a four or five square kilometer area, and is attended by neighbors of all ages. It is held on the grounds of the local elementary school, and consists of a small central stage, a few strings of lanterns, and a handful of food stalls.
This year there was a new element as well--plastic lanterns were hand-painted by kids from the elementary school, with candles stuck inside for illumination.
The main events are a taiko drum performance, a raffle of fruit and other items, and the Bon-odori dance, where participants dance in a circle around the central stage while listening to traditional Japanese music. This year, my mother was here for the festival, visiting from the U.S. She didn't know the dances, but a Japanese neighbor we didn't know invited her into the circle and taught her the dances.
While lacking the drama of some of the larger and more famous festivals in Japan, I love our local version for its communal feeling. It's a chance to see neighbors of all ages, dressed in yukata, dancing to the beat of the taiko drums and the pulse of the cicadas, laughing and having a good time in the warm summer evening.