With the arrival of the cherry blossoms, spring finally feels like it's in full swing. From art exhibitions to blossom viewing festivals, there are all kinds of events across the metropolis to get you in the mood for spring.
Cherry blossoms against an azure sky. © Lisa Borbély
26 February – 14 June 2020
Event: Peter Doig Exhibition
Location: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Time: 10:00am–5:00pm (until 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays; L.A. 30 minutes before closing)
Admission: JPY1700 (Concessions available)
Are you a fan of Gauguin, Van Gogh, Chagall, or Matisse? Then you might just fall in love with this exhibition featuring contemporary Scottish painter Peter Doig. Dubbed a “painter’s painter,” Doig’s works showcase romantic, mystical, and uncanny landscapes, featuring motifs from places he’s lived (from Canada to Trinidad) and paintings by the aforementioned artists. It’s a real romp through the imagination.
10 March - 5 April 2020
Event: Cherry Blossom Viewing at the Tokyo National Museum
Location: Tokyo National Museum
Time: 9:30am - 5:00pm (Last Admission: 4:30pm)
Opening hours extended on Fridays and Saturdays, until 9:00pm; and on 30 April and 3 May until 6:00pm
Admission: Various depending on events. See official website.
Come spring each year, the Tokyo National Museum opens its garden to the public. Located behind the main building, the Museum Garden is home to five historic teahouses, not to mention around 10 varieties of gorgeous cherry trees. When you need a break from the various indoor cherry-themed art exhibitions, step outside into the gardens and enjoy the fresh air and vibrant spring greens. Check out the official website for the full list of lectures, concerts, and other events organised in tandem with the cherry blossoms.
Rikugien nighttime cherry blossom illuminations. © Marufish
17 March – 5 April 2020
Event: Spring Festival in The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Location: National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Time: 10:00am -5:00pm
Cherry blossoms are a beloved motif in Japanese art. In spring, not only can you appreciate scads of real sakura outdoors, you can enjoy artworks of them too. Head to the National Museum of Modern Art for a collection of masterpieces featuring – you guessed it – cherry blossoms. Spring is truly here!
Tip: This museum is conveniently located near Chidorigafuchi Park and the Imperial Palace, both of which appear on our Two-Day Cherry Blossom Itinerary.
The museum is conveniently located for those visiting the Imperial Palace, and a must-see place particularly in spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. You can view Japanese paintings acclaimed as masterpieces along with cherry blossoms, thereby enjoying Japan’s graceful spring.
20 March - 2 April 2020
Event: Rikugien Cherry Blossom Lightup 2020
Time: Sundown - 9:00pm (Last Admission: 8:30pm)
Around late March to early April, everyone can enjoy one of Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape gardens after dark. Rikugien’s annual celebrations mean the return of the spring illuminations, when the park and its cherry trees will be lit up when evening falls. Bring your friends after work and enjoy some matcha and Japanese sweets at the teahouse (last orders are at around 7:30pm). You’re sure to have a magical hanami party here.
Walking through a garden of azaleas at Nezu Shrine © Guilhem Vellut
3 – 5 April 2020
Event: African Festival Yokohama 2020
Location: Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
Time: 11:00am–7:00pm (ends at 5:00pm on 5 April)
Looking to explore African cultures and traditions? Head over to the iconic Red Brick Warehouse in Yokohama this April for one of Japan’s largest African cultural events. They’re a self-described trade, investment, and cultural exposition, but even if you’re not there to network, it’ll offer a fascinating look into the cultures of various African countries. Not only will there be performances from dances to drumming to traditional instruments, there are many delicious food stalls and handmade arts and crafts to bring home. A great way to expand your cultural horizons on the first weekend of April.
4 April - 6 May 2020
Event: Bunkyo Tsutsuji Matsuri
Location: Nezu Shrine
Time: time of event (see format in example below)
Flower festivals are a huge visitor draw for shrines and temples, and Nezu Shrine’s Tsutsuji Matsuri or Azalea Festival coincides with the blooming of over 3000 azalea plants in its 300-year old garden. The entry fee is nominal, but gives you access to a large garden of azalea bushes stretching as far as the eye can see, ranging from shades of cream and pink to deepest fuchsia. Have a beverage at the teahouse (open for two weeks between) and various performances throughout the month at the shrine.
The first week of May is the last week to catch the azaleas before this garden is closed to the public again.
Browsing for bargains at a flea market. © shuzo serikawa
5 April 2020
Billed as the largest outdoor antique market in Japan, the event attracts shoppers from all walks of life. There is quite literally everything and anything old here: Taisho-period glassware, ceramics, rusty coins, gorgeous jewelry, secondhand kimono ranging from dirt cheap to a few hundred dollars… Whether you’re looking for a cheap bargain or a rare gem from the 1880s, you’re sure to find something for your budget. Haggling is best very early in the morning or towards the end of the day, though you can spend the whole day browsing.
The market is closed in case of rain, but this market is held twice a month - and thrice this month. So, if that happens, you can try your luck again on 12 and 19 April.
5 April 2020
Here's another fun reason to visit Hanazono Shrine in Shinjuku: there's a small but regular antique fair happening there almost every Sunday. The Hanazono Shrine Blue Sky Antique Fair - which is the full name in Japanese, roughly translated - is not exactly endless sprawl and shopping, since there are only 25~30 stalls maximum at any given time. Smaller items are the focus here, rather than large furniture or statement pieces.
The market runs from sunrise to sunset, though visiting in the morning is best since many stalls tend to close around 3pm. (Come around then for the best bargains.) Check the calendar above before you go. This month, it’s being held on 5, 12, 19, and 26 April. If it rains, expect it not to run.
White elephant at the Hana Matsuri. © Guilhem Vellut
5 April 2020
Event: Museum of Modern Art – Free Admission Day
Location: National Museum of Modern Art
Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm
It is deceptively easy to blow out your budget in Tokyo - those vending machine purchases
really add up! But you can fund a few more drinks by saving on entrance fees at the National
Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT), which has free admission on the first Sunday of every
month. It’s a great place to see 20th century Japanese masterpieces.
8 April 2020
Literally meaning the ‘Flower Festival,’ Hana Matsuri is held on 8 April every year to celebrate Buddha’s birthday. They’ll be serving hydrangea tea to visitors, and you can purchase some limited-edition temple merchandise on this day. The Hana Matsuri isn’t just limited to Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, so if you don’t feel like jostling with the crowds, most Buddhist temples will hold some kind of small celebration or commemoration on this day.
Live painting at Design Festa. © philippe.charles9
11 – 12 April 2020
Event: Design Festa vol. 48
Location: Tokyo Big Sight, Ariake
Time: 11:00am - 7:00pm
Admission: ¥1000 (One-day pass)
It’s that time of the year again - your favorite art & design jamboree is back! A whopping 15,000 artists from within Japan and without are descending on Tokyo Big Sight to bring you the 50th Design Festa, which has been running biannually in spring and autumn since 1994. You’ll experience the full gamut of artistic expression here across all mediums: crafts, paintings, cuisine, performances, music, dance - if you can imagine it, you’ll find it here. Two day tickets are necessary if you want to be able to see and experience everything here. Have some extra cash handy, too - you’re sure to walk away with unique handmade gifts and souvenirs for loved ones here.
11 April 2020
Event: Asakusa Kannon-ura Ichiyo Sakura Festival
Location: Asakusa Kannon-ura
Time: 10:00am – 4:00pm
Website: IchiyoSakura.com (Japanese)
Cherry blossoms are an excuse to throw many festivals. The biggest draw at this particular annual festival in Asakusa held on the second Saturday of April every year – besides the gorgeous yaezakura (late-blooming cherry trees), flea market, and street food – is the Edo Yoshiwara Oiran Parade. Local residents dress up as Edo-period courtesans and walk through the streets, recreating the geisha processions of old. It’s remarkably elaborate and glamorous. Unsurprisingly, it also attracts throngs of people.
Wisteria at Kameido Shrine © Zengame
12 April - 4 May 2020
Event: Wisteria Festival
Location: Kameido Tenjin Shrine
Time: All day
Even more alluring than cherry blossoms may be the purple wisteria flowers. If you missed the cherries, late April to early May is a fantastic time to see them. Kameido Tenjin Shrine is a Tokyo favourite for wisteria-viewing, and is popularly billed as one of the best places in the metropolis for these flowers. Clusters of lavender-colored wisteria - planted during the Edo period - dangle from trellises above a tranquil pond filled with koi fish and turtles, creating a gorgeous reflection. Come for the flowers, stay for the festival food.
18–19 April 2020
Sustainability is the name of the game at this event in Yoyogi Park celebrating Earth Day. Expect two days of art, healing vibes, and music, and the chance to find out about eco-friendly companies, environmental NPOs and charities in Japan. Also, vegetarians usually have a tough time eating out in Japan - there are vastly fewer, readily-available options - but at the Earth Day Kitchen Zone, delicious vegetarian (and even vegan!) food choices abound.
A parade during Tokyo Rainbow Pride. © Lauren Anderson
25 April - 6 May 2020
Event: Tokyo Rainbow Pride: Rainbow Week
Location: Various/Yoyogi Park
Same-sex marriage still isn’t legal in Japan, but the LGBTQ community in Tokyo has a rip-roaring Pride festival every year. Tokyo Rainbow Pride runs over Golden Week, and there are more than 60 events around town where you can celebrate with the community, regardless of your own orientation or gender. 25 and 26 April sees a festival in Yoyogi Park. For a full lineup of all the fun, queer events, visit the website.
Bonus: if you’re a Spotify user, have a look at the 2018 Tokyo Rainbow Pride website and you’ll find a fantastic Spotify playlist curated by the organizers, featuring LGBT musical favorites across various genres. Madonna and Michael Jackson songs make appearances.
29 April – 6 May 2020
If you’ve ever wanted a visual crash course in the traditional Japanese performing arts, you could do far worse than checking out the Spring Grand Festival at Meiji-jingu Shrine near Yoyogi Park. This festival is held during Golden Week––when the whole nation seems to go on holiday––and centers around several important Shinto rituals and ceremonies. Watch shrine maidens perform the sacred ‘Urayasu-no-Mai’ dance for a peaceful world, listen to Bugaku (ancient imperial court music) and Satsuma biwa (Japanese lute) performances, and sit through a visually stunning Noh play (classical Japanese theatre). The bulk of the performances take place on 2 and 3 May; check the official website for this year’s schedule.
Tokyo Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Tokyo guide
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- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
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- If you're visiting more than one city, save a ton of money with a Japan Rail Pass – here's why it's worth it
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