It might still feel like the depths of winter, but February is when the first hints of spring begin appearing all over Tokyo. There are so many ways to celebrate that this month: enjoy the plum blossoms, watch some bean-throwing rituals at various temples in town, and head over to Yokohama for the Lunar New Year.
Throwing beans at Zojo-ji Temple © Masayuki Takaku
2 November 2019 to 24 February 2020
Winter illuminations abound all over Tokyo as soon as the temperature begins to dip, but the annual glow-up at Yebisu Garden Place must be one of the most impressive. Besides the glitzy Christmas tree, the illuminations include one of the world’s largest chandeliers - from renowned crystal manufacturer Baccarat, no less. With almost 100,000 lights around, it’s sure to brighten any dreary winter’s day.
Marunouchi Illuminations © Dick Thomas Johnson
7 November 2019 - 16 February 2020
Event: Marunouchi Illumination
Location: Marunouchi Illumination
Time: 5:30pm - 11:00pm
Clocking in at 18 consecutive years, the annual Marunouchi Illuminations is one of the longest-running Tokyo light-ups of its kind. Naturally, it's a favourite with many Tokyo residents. Walking down the champagne-coloured, fairy light-strewn, gently glittering Naka-dori never fails to induce starry-eyed Christmassy feelings in us. Sometimes literally. Naka-dori stretches for around 500 meters, from near Tokyo Station to the vicinity of the Peninsula Hotel.
16 November 2019 – 16 February 2020
Event: minä perhonen / minagawa akira TSUZUKU
Location: Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), Koto Ward
Time: 10:00am – 6:00pm (Closed Mondays except 13 January; 28 December – 1 January, 14 January)
Admission: ¥500 (Concessions available)
minä perhonen must be one of Japan’s most beloved fashion and textile brands. Founded by designer Akira Minagawa, her clothes embody the idea of “special ordinary clothing,” and are characterised by bright yet wearable colours. You’ll also see plenty of nature-inspired motifs like shells, birds, butterflies, forests, and flowers. In this insightful exhibition, visitors can explore the designer’s world and the creative process of designing clothes from start to finish.
As a bonus, the MOT museum itself is a fantastic space to wander around, with most of the building open to visitors for free even if you’re not entering an exhibition. Perfect for art and architecture buffs.
9 January – 11 February 2020
Event: Paintings Created as Sets
Location: Nezu Museum, Aoyama
Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm (Last entry: 4:30pm; closed Mondays, except 14 October and 4 November; closed 15 October)
Admission: ¥1100 (Concessions available)
If you’ve ever arranged paintings, prints, or photographs on your wall, you’ll know how fun it is to curate artworks in sets. This exhibition at the Nezu Museum examines East Asian paintings that have been arranged in various combinations. Think sets of hanging scrolls or pairs of folding screens, which can be enjoyed separately or appreciated as a whole. Some notable pieces here include the hanging scrolls Owl and Rooster by Kanō Sansetsu, and a gorgeous pair of six-panel screens depicting cherry blossoms and maple leaves.
Don’t forget to take some time exploring the garden after looking at all the exhibition pieces – the Nezu Museum garden is one of the lushest Japanese-style ones in central Tokyo.
25 January – 8 February 2020
Event: Chinese Spring Festival
Location: Yokohama Chinatown
Time: Various - see website
Website: ChinaTown.or.jp (Japanese)
Chinese New Year is easily one of the best festivals around by virtue of its length - it lasts 15 days, with a variety of rituals and celebrations taking place over 2 weeks. Yokohama’s Chinatown is the place to be at this time of the year. Even strolling around and snacking on Chinese food takes on an extra pizzazz when there are thousands of paper lanterns lining the streets. Check out the New Year Countdown in Yamashita-cho Park, auspicious lion dance performances, traditional music concerts, and firecrackers in the streets.
Japanese kites at a festival. © cotaro70s
3 February 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. So, if that happens, you can try your luck again on 16 February.
Hanazono Shrine © Guilhem Vellut
3 February 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 2, 9, 16, and 23 February. If it rains, expect it not to run.
3 February 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.
3 February 2020
Setsubun celebrates the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The mamemaki or ‘bean-throwing’ ritual is held as part of setsubun, and is supposed to chase ill fortune out of the household - represented by literal demons - and bring good fortune. You know spring is coming when everyone starts tossing beans out of the door.
Many places around town from Asakusa’s Senso-ji Temple to Kanda Myojin Shrine will be holding bean-throwing rituals, but an exciting place to watch this ceremony is at Zojo-ji Temple. As a bonus, there’ll be many people wearing samurai costumes. Out with the demons, in with luck!
Plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin Shrine © y kawahara
8 February - 8 March 2020
Event: Bunkyo Ume Matsuri
Location: Yushima Tenjin Shrine
Time: 6:00am - 8:00pm
With around 300 trees in white and pink - mainly Shirokaga white plums - Yushima Tenjin is one of Tokyo’s most beloved plum blossom-viewing spots. Yushima Tenjin enshrines Sugawara no Michizane, the deity of scholarship, making it a popular spot for students to pray for good results in their exams or studies. Fewer know that when exiled to Dazaifu in Kyushu, he also wrote a famous poem referencing the beauty and fragrance of the plum blossoms.
The best time for the plum blossoms is really around the second half of February, but they’ve been known to linger on till the first week of March. Besides the plum blossoms, you’ll also be able to enjoy some performances and tea ceremonies.
8 February – 1 March 2020
Event: Setagaya Plum Blossom Festival
Location: Hanegi Park
Time: 10:00am - 4:00pm
If Yushima Tenjin doesn’t feel green enough for you, hit up the Setagaya Plum Blossom Festival at Hanegi Park. 650 plum trees in this little green space makes it gorgeously fragrant and wonderland-like. To experience the full festival atmosphere, you’ll want to visit on the weekends when the vendors set up their stalls. Most things on sale are plum-themed: plum jam, pickled plums, red-bean-and-plum jellies, sweet plum crackers, plum kombucha, even a handbook stuffed with information about plums.
21 February 2020
Event: Kite Market
Location: Oji Inari Shrine
Time: 10:00am - 6:00pm
We’re lucky this isn’t the Edo period - we’d have to contend with frequent fires burning down entire streets and neighborhoods at a time. At the time, kites were believed to help ward off fire. Whether you believe that or not, the annual Kite Market at Oji Inari Shrine is nonetheless a great place to browse - Japanese kites are gorgeous, and make wonderful decorative pieces in the house.
Awa Odori is probably Tokushima’s most famous export. © Dumphasizer
23 February 2020
Tokushima isn’t exactly a place many outside the Kansai region are aware of, but Tokyoites will all know its most famous export, the Awa Odori dance. It does have far more to offer than just a cool traditional dance though! Learn more about this Shikoku island prefecture at the Tokushima Tourism & Products Fair, which returns for its 7th year running.
Sample your way through the food - fabulous teas and citruses, for starters - and check out their stunning indigo-dyed products. This is also the perfect opportunity to learn more about places in Tokushima to visit on your next trip, like the Iya Valley, the Naruto whirlpools, and the Tokushima Handicraft Village.
Tokyo Vacation Checklist
- For all the essentials in a brief overview, see my First Time In Tokyo guide
- Check Tokyo accommodation availability and pricing on Booking.com – usually you can reserve a room with no upfront payment. Pay when you check out. Free cancellations too
- Need tips on where to stay? See my one page guide Where To Stay In Tokyo
- You can buy a Japan SIM card online for collection on arrival at Tokyo Narita or Haneda airports. Or rent an unlimited data pocket wifi router
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare airline flight prices and timings for the best Japan flight deals. Check my guides to arriving at Narita Airport and at Haneda Airport.
- 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
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Tokyo much easier - here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world