Before going to Japan, our friend +Lili Florea (aka Muza-Chan) recommended us to attend at least one matsuri. Given our fondness for festivals and all things traditional, we thought it would be an amazing idea, but at the same time we weren't sure our traveling dates would coincide with any festival.
Well, they say there's always a festival somewhere in Japan, and we actually ended up bumping into four - the Ikebukuro Autumn Festival, the Jidai Matsuri in Kyoto, a street festival in Nagoya and another festival in Arashiyama.
First of all we got lucky by accidentally booking our hotel in Ikebukuro, one of the liveliest and most colorful areas of Tokyo. Second, we happened to be there at the beginning of October, right when the Ikebukuro Autumn Festival was held.
We were told this was one of the biggest autumn festivals in Japan, lasting the whole weekend, and involving parades and concerts next to Ikebukuro Station West Exit (the second-busiest railway station in the world, and therefore very much accessible with a JR Pass). Loud music washed the streets and people of all ages dressed in gorgeous costumes danced centuries old rhythms in spite of the light rain. The Japanese autumn festivals are traditionally held to give thanks to the gods for the rice harvest and pray for the well-being of the community.
We were surprised however to see nobody was pushing to see the parade. Actually, there weren't that many people gathered on the side road (by European festival standards, anyways) and from what we could tell, we were the only western faces around, which totally was a pity, because the festival was an eye candy. At the end of the day, after the crowds left, we were equally surprised to see the streets as clean as always. Japan runs this 'take your garbage at home' policy and in spite of the lack of garbage bins on the streets, nobody litters the public spaces.