Tokyo in December may be cold but with all the fantastic exhibitions, festivals and events it’ll be easy to keep your spirits high. Don’t forget to choose a shrine to visit for hatsumode on 31 December - the first prayer of the year will help set the tone for the coming year!
Gingko trees along Icho Namiki-dori Avenue. © nakashi
2 October - 9 December 2018
Event: Marcel Duchamp and Japanese Art
Location: Tokyo National Museum
Time: 9:30am - 5:00pm (Open until 9:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays, L.O. 8:30pm)
Admission: ¥1200 (concession prices available)
Do you love Japanese art? Do you also consider The Urinal to be a seminally groundbreaking work of art (even if Duchamp did purportedly steal the idea?) If so, you’ll love this exhibition, which traces the creative activities of Marcel Duchamp (1887 - 1968) through works borrowed from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Juxtaposed against his pieces are Japanese works of art created in different social environments, creating fresh connections and contrasts between the two worlds that the artworks embody.
6 October 2018 - 14 January 2019
Event: Exotic × Modern: French Art Deco and Inspiration From Afar
Location: Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
Time: 10:00am - 6:00pm
Admission: ¥1200 (concession prices available)
Closed: Second and fourth Wednesdays; 28 December 2018 - 4 January 2019.
Inspiration for creating works of art knows no bounds. This exhibition showcases a variety of works across all kinds of media - paintings, sculptures, and fashion - to show just how non-European cultures and arts impacted and influenced the Art Deco movement of inter-war France. We suppose it’s kind of a way of giving credit where it’s due.
6 October 2018 - 1 January 2019
Event: Roppongi Hills and Mori Art Museum 15th Anniversary Exhibition: Catastrophe and the Power of Art
Location: Mori Art Museum
Time: 10:00am -10:00pm (L.A. 9:30pm), Tues: 10:00am - 5:00pm (L.A. 4:30pm)
Admission: ¥1800 (Concessions available)
Coming hot on the heels of what’s been a rather catastrophic summer for many areas in Japan, this timely exhibition at the Mori Art Museum explores what art can do for us in times of chaos and grief. Media coverage and disaster relief works aside, the exhibition collects and considers the role that artists and their art play in responding to disasters. Can art offer new visions, hopes for a better future, make sense of grief and destruction, or simply allow us to understand ourselves in the wake of catastrophe? If you’ve been pondering these questions recently, this is the exhibition to go to.
Christmas lights at Yokohama Queen Square. © kurotango
31 October 2018 - 31 December 2018
Event: Smart Illumination Yokohama 2018
Location: Zou-no-Hana Terrace, Yokohama
Time: 5:30pm - 9:30pm
Taking place every autumn since 2011, the Smart Illumination show in Yokohama makes the city’s waterfront areas all shiny and colorful with energy-efficient lighting technology. It’s quite a spectacle and fantastic if you like bright lights - while it bills itself as a combination of art and technology, think of it as a follow-up to the summer fireworks. While the main festival takes place from 31 October to 4 November, you can go any time to see the illuminations until the end of the year. Perfect for romantic strolls.
16 November - 2 December 2018
Event: Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival 2018
Location: Icho Namiki-dori & Meiji Jingu Gaien
Time: 10:00am - 5:30pm
Any ‘festival’ is really just an excuse to eat and drink under some pretty leaves. As the tall gingko trees along this avenue turn golden yellow, so too do the 40-odd food and drink stalls begin popping up around the nearby softball stadium. Make sure you check out all the regional food they’re selling, too. Even if you’re not hungry, the view of the trees is a feast for the eyes.
Princess Bubblegum cosplayer at Comic Con. © Oliver Ayala
30 November - 2 December 2018
Event: Tokyo Comic Con 2018
Location: Makuhari Messe
Admission: ¥3200 (Concessions available)
Comic Con is a big event, and it just gets more and more massive every year. As usual, there are cosplayers, celebrity meet-and-greets (a separate and hefty price tag), a cosplay contest, stage events, exhibits, thousands of booths hawking merchandise of all sorts, and a food court. There’ll also be thousands of event-goers, so steel yourself for the crowds before diving in. On the bright side, children of elementary school age or younger get to attend for free.
2 December 2018
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. So, if that happens, you can try your luck again on 16 December.
Scenes from a Tokyo flea market. © dreamylyricist
7 - 9 December 2018
Event: Heiwajima Antique Fair
Location: Heiwajima Ryutsu Center Building
Time: 10:00am - 5:00pm (until 4:00pm on the last day)
This is, apparently, one of the largest and oldest antique fairs in Japan. It also attracts several hundred antiques dealers from all over the nation, so this bazaar is really less about sifting through the junk for deals, and more about quality antique pieces. Serious shoppers and lovers of all things old should go. You’re likely to score the best deals on the final day of this three-day event.
The Heiwajima Antique Fair is held 5 times a year in March, May, June, September, and December. In the event you miss this month’s fair, you can plan ahead for another one in the coming months.
14 - 16 December 2018
Event: Bungu Joshi Haku
Location: Tokyo Ryutsu Center
Time: 10:00am - 5:00pm
Stationery nerds, assemble! It may be the ‘Girls Stationery Fair,' but don’t let the gendered assumptions stop you from heading here. Running for three days, this fabulous festival showcases writing supplies of all kinds and prices, including paper, notebooks, brushes, pens, and more. There’ll be several hundred vendors here, so if you need to track down specific goods, check the website before you go.
A stall display at Setagaya Boroichi. © Hetarllen Mumriken
15 - 16 December 2018
Event: Setagaya Boroichi
Location: Boroichi-dori, Setagaya
Time: 9:00am – 8:00pm
Running annually for more than 430 years now, the Boroichi is Tokyo’s largest and oldest flea market. It’s huge: you’ll find around 700 stalls crammed into a narrow strip of road, selling anything from secondhand kimono to antique ceramics to woodblock prints. You’ll probably find everything you’re looking for, and even more that you’re not. Don’t worry about the cold, since you’ll be jostling along with 200,000 other market-goers - it adds to the spirit of the event. Just eat some of the market’s famous daikan mochi rice cakes and you’ll be good to go.
Boroichi runs twice a year, once in December and once in January. So if you can’t make it this year, head over for the first one of 2019 next month.
26 October - 25 December 2018
The highly-acclaimed international photography festival KYOTOGRAPHIE has always been held annually in Kyoto since its inception 6 years ago, but it’s about time that they had a sister event in Tokyo. This special Tokyo edition exhibits some of the most popular works from 2018’s spring festival. Talent is wide-ranging and excellent, with works from contemporary Chinese photographers like Liu Colin and Japanese photographers such as Masahisa Fukase. A must-see for photography buffs.
Fox masks. © fukapon
31 December 2018 - 1 January 2019
Event: Oji Fox Parade
Location: Shozoku Inari Shrine, Oji
Time: 9:30pm onwards (Parade at 12:00am)
The Oji Fox Parade has been held annually for at least a century or two - it’s old enough that it inspired an Ando Hiroshige woodblock print. For hatsumode, the first prayer of the year, local residents in Oji transform themselves into a procession of foxes and walk from Shozoku Shrine to nearby Oji Inari Shrine. Whether you’re a participant or an onlooker, it’s a charming and fun event for all. As usual, there’ll be festival food and drink to keep you warm on this winter’s night.
31 December 2018
Much like spring-cleaning, humans also need to regularly clear out the cobwebs in our personal closets. One of the forms this takes in Japan is the Oharae, or the Great Purification Ceremony, an ancient ritual conducted twice annually at Shinto shrines across the nation. It takes place on 30 June (known as Nagoshi no Oharae, for the summer), and again on 31 December (when it’s known as Toshikoshi no harae, to herald the coming new year). It’s free and open to all at Meiji Jingu Shrine. Priests recite the prayers of purification, and cleanse you of your sins with a wand and pieces of white paper. The year-end ceremony is the last chance to clear our your closet for 2018 - metaphorically speaking! If you’re feeling a little sinful, or reeling from the aftereffects of Mercury retrograde, or just want to rid yourself of some bad juju, it wouldn’t hurt to take a gander at this.
Hatsumode at Meiji Jingu Shrine. © Dick Thomas Johnson
31 December 2018
This is the very last ceremony held at Meiji Jingu Shrine in the year. You won’t actually be able to see anything, but you’ll hear the big drums marking the beginning and finish of the ceremony. Plus, the shrine stays open all night for hatsumode, the first prayer of the year - a great way to begin 2019. Be warned that you’ll probably be accompanied by thousands of people to ring in the new year.
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Tokyo Vacation Checklist
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