Hot, sticky, and sweltering - August is peak summer for most of Japan. But that just means fireworks and energetic dancing galore during the warmest month of the year. Put on your best yukata and head out to any of Tokyo’s numerous festivals this month for a rollicking good time in town.
Fireworks at the Itabashi Fireworks Festival © recompile_net
1 August 2018
Event: Koto Fireworks Festival
Location: Arakawa Sunamachi Riverside Park
Time: 7:30pm - 8:30pm
Website: City.Koto.lg.jp (Japanese)
Kick off your August with the annual Koto-ku Fireworks Festival in Sunamachi Riverside Park. With around 4000 fireworks launched from a barge on the river, it promises to be a fun and colorful spectacle on a Wednesday night. It’ll happen rain or shine, unless there’s a typhoon coming into town. In this case, they’ll postpone it by a day or two.
Held on a weekday, the event is relatively less crowded than other popular fireworks festivals in town which typically draw spectators in the millions. The Koto-ku festival is projected to attract just 350,000 or so people.
4 August 2018
Event: Itabashi Fireworks Festival
Location: Arakawa River banks
Time: 7:00pm - 8:30pm
Website: Itabashihanabi.jp (Japanese)
With around 12,000 fireworks set to go off this year, it’s no surprise that the annual Itabashi Fireworks Festival is a favourite with many Tokyoites. Crowd favorites include the ‘Niagara Falls,’ a chain of brilliant explosions resembling a waterfall of light around 700 metres long; and huge ‘star mines’ that look like a series of exploding stars.
The event takes place all along the banks of the Arakawa River, and the nearest stations are Nishidai, Hasune, and Takashima Daira - all on the Toei Mita Line. Each one is a roughly 20-minute walk away from the river bank. Both reserved seats and general seating areas at the venue are available. Arriving early to secure spots is a good idea.
4 August 2018
Event: Edogawa Fireworks Festival
Location: Edogawa River Bank
Time: 7:15pm - 8:30pm
Even among the hundreds of fireworks festivals held in Tokyo each year, the Edogawa Fireworks Festival continues to draw some of the biggest crowds annually. Around 1.3 million or more spectators are projected to gather at Toritsu Shinozaki Park this year for a fabulous light show.
This year, the festival will see some 14,000 fireworks being launched over the course of 75 minutes, spanning 8 ‘acts’ accompanied by background music - almost like a fireworks concert. The venue is a 25-minute walk from JR Koiwa Station, or a 15-minute walk from Shinozaki Station on the Toei Shinjuku Line.
Fireworks at the Edogawa Fireworks Festival © prelude-2000
4 - 5 August 2018
Event: Sri Lanka Festival 2018
Location: Yoyogi Park Events Square
Time: 10:00am - 7:00pm
Everybody loves a good curry. Unsurprisingly, the main draw at the Sri Lanka Festival in Yoyogi Park is always the food. Think of all the spicy Sri Lankan favorites: curries, hoppers (thin crispy griddled pancakes), cutlets, roti and vadai, all to be washed down with - what else? - Sri Lankan beer. Or tea, if that’s your style.
Besides the food, there’s other aspects of Sri Lankan culture to explore and enjoy at the festival. You’ll be able to listen to some music and watch traditional Channa Upuli dance performances, check out the stalls selling traditional garments, jewelry, and handicrafts, or pamper yourself with a little Ayurvedic treatment. There’ll even be astrological services for those inclined towards a little fortune-telling.
10 - 12 August 2018
Event: Summer Comiket
Location: Tokyo Big Sight
Time: 10:00am - 4:00pm
Comic Market, or Comiket as it’s better known, is held twice a year and is one of Japan’s biggest comic events. The focus here is on dojinshi, or fan-drawn, independently-published manga. Genres and styles vary widely, as does the quality of the goods on sale. Of course, the event also attracts plenty of cosplayers, photographers, and people looking for market merchandise. If you’re looking to cosplay, you’ll need to pay a nominal JPY800 fee to attend in costume; admission is otherwise free.
Unlike shops like Mandarake, Comiket is not really for casual browsing or window shopping. The crowds numbering in the millions mean that you’ll need to know exactly which artist’s booth you’re looking for and where to find it. It also means that you should be vigilant about staying hydrated amidst the hot weather and crowds inside. Bring plenty of water and enough cash for your purchases.
Cosplayers at Comic Market, Big Sight. © hikarukazushime
12 August 2018
Event: Star Wars in Concert
Location: Tokyo International Forum
Time: 13:00pm and 18:00pm
Admission: JPY7800 - JPY9800 (See ticket page)
Calling all Star Wars fans: the orchestral extravaganza is back in Japan, accompanied by its usual array of cinema screens, laser lighting, and other special effects. Even if the movies are no longer in theaters, you can relive the glory days with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra renditions of the iconic John Williams soundtrack from the original trilogy, conducted by Mark Watters. A few clips of the film will be shown alongside the performances. May the Force be with you, indeed.
Lanterns floating down a river. © terrykimura
11 August 2018
Event: Asakusa Toro Nagashi 2018
Location: Sumida Park
Time: 6:30pm - 8:15pm
Website: E-Asakusa.jp (Japanese)
There’s something incredibly magical about glowing lanterns floating along a river. There are variations of this festival all over the world, but you can see it for yourself in Tokyo at the Asakusa Toro Nagashi this August. During this O-bon festival, lanterns are lit with candles, and set afloat on rivers to help guide the ancestral spirits back to the other side.
The Toro Nagashi lantern light-up is held in Sumida Park between Azumabashi and Kototoibashi. Each lantern - totaling around 2500 of them - floating down the river is inscribed with a handwritten message to the deceased. You can light your own for JPY1500, though you’ll need to put in an application in advance. Otherwise, enjoying the view is completely free.
12 - 13 August 2018
Event: Shimokitazawa Summer Festival
Location: Shimokitazawa Azuma Street Shotengai, Shimokitazawa Patio
Time: 1:00pm - 8:00pm
Website: Shimokitazawa-East.com (Japanese)
Who doesn’t love a good neighborhood festival? Shimokitazawa’s local community events are usually great fun, and their annual summer festival is no different. With live music and summer games aplenty, expect many local families and attendees from wider Tokyo at this raucous, musical gathering.
At some point, everyone will be dancing around the yagura (festival tower), and all you have to do is grab a beer and join in the fun. Luckily, there’ll be plenty of refreshment stands for food and drink on hand. If you need something more substantial after all the festivities, just take your pick from the hundreds of tasty izakaya restaurants in the area.
18 - 19 August 2018
While not as huge or well-attended as the Asakusa Samba Festival, the Sancha Latin Festival in Sangenjaya is fabulously energetic and atmospheric in its own right. Think two days of Latin music, a Sunday Samba parade, and a dance competition featuring some of the city’s sexiest shakers. It’s a good opportunity to get out and explore the charming neighborhood of Sangenjaya, too.
Dancer at the Asakusa Samba Festival © oimax
25 August 2018
Event: Asakusa Samba Carnival
Time: 1:00pm - 6:00pm
Tokyo’s highly-anticipated annual samba festival is back in Asakusa! Now in its 37th year, it attracts crowds of half a million or more, all crammed into around 5 or 6 blocks worth of street space. With 18 ‘teams’ of samba floats, drummers, and ultra-talented dancers in tiny costumes, it’s an unforgettable summer festival guaranteed to get you dancing along with them in the streets of Asakusa.
The focal point of the samba parade is in front of Kaminarimon, which predictably has the highest concentration of amateur and professional photographers gathered around. Arrive early to stake out your spot there; but note that that no selfie sticks or drones are permitted at this festival. It’s also a 5 - 6 hour event, so make sure you have food and water to keep you going in the summer heat.
25 - 26 August 2018
Event: Harajuku Omotesando Super Yosakoi 2018
Location: Yoyogi Park Events Square
Time: 10:00am - 8:00pm (Sat), 10:00am - 5:30pm (Sun)
The Harajuku and Omotesando areas are typically always full of people, but the last weekend of August will see crowds swell along with the Super Yosakoi dance contest. It’s a massive festival, with around 6000 performers in total showing everyone a good time during the parade that lasts pretty much all day.
There’ll also be a stage at the Yoyogi Park Event Square and near Harajuku Station, so if following along with the parade isn’t your thing, head to the park instead.
Dancers at the Koenji Awa Odori Festival.© Mark Swinhoe
25 - 26 August 2018
Event: Koenji Awa Odori Festival
Location: Koenji Station area
Time: 5:00pm - 8:00pm
August is O-bon month, during which the spirits of the dead reputedly visit the living. Bon dances or Bon odori are usually held to welcome the spirits to this world, and they’ve taken on various forms depending on the region of Japan you’re in. One particularly famous and beloved version is Tokushima prefecture’s Awa Odori, characterized by its colorful costumes and energetic movements.
The most famous Awa Odori festival is held annually in Koenji, and it’s been going strong for 60 years now. The festival starts at 5pm, which is a cooler (temperature-wise) and more sensible time to begin some sweaty festivities. The downside is that for 3 hours, you’ll be crammed up against some 1 million other spectators here to watch the parade. On the bright side, there are 10,000 dancers and musicians performing, so you’re sure to catch at least some of the action. Regardless, go early to secure your spots!
31 August - 2 September 2018
Event: 17th Tokyo Jazz Festival
Location: Various (see event website)
Time: Various (see event website)
Admission: Various (see event website)
The Tokyo Jazz Festival is back! Now in its 17th year, it runs for a few days at the end of August and start of September across several venues in town. Ticket prices vary by venue, but some of the events can be enjoyed for free at Keyaki-Namiki Street in Yoyogi Park. It’s a great day out for jazz fans.
This year’s headline act is Herbie Hancock, but there are other stellar musicians in the line-up too. Take your pick from performers such as Cornelius, John Scofield’s Combo 66, The Manhattan Transfer, and the Tigran Hamasyan Trio. Visit the official website for the full list of performances.
The ceiling of a Japanese teahouse © irisphotos
25 April - 17 September 2018
Event: Japan in Architecture: Genealogies of Its Transformation
Location: Mori Art Museum, Roppongi
Time: 10:00am - 10:00pm (Last Admission: 9:30pm); 10:00am - 5:00pm (Last Admission: 4:30pm) on Tuesdays
Admission: ¥1800 (concession prices available)
If there has ever been a definitive exhibition on Japanese architecture, this is probably it. The Mori Art Museum’s exhibition plumbs the depths of Japanese history and takes us through the lineage of architecture throughout the ages. Few stones are left unturned as thematic questions are raised and explored - the evolution of wooden architecture, the interaction between Western and Japanese architectural styles, coexisting with nature, and the effects of modernism, to name a few. An important and illuminating exhibition for both the enthusiast and casual observer alike.
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