January in Tokyo can be pretty dreary, with cold weather and all-too-short spells of sunlight. Then again, it’s the perfect excuse to enjoy the dreamy winter illuminations and hot street food at antique markets around town. Ring in the new year with hatsumode at the nearest shrine, watch flocks of young Japanese in gorgeous furisode for their Coming of Age celebrations, and paint the town red at any of the events below. Winter in Tokyo is just fabulous!
Illuminations at Yebisu Garden Palace © ajari
8 August 2019 – 13 January 2020
Event: Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition
Location: Warehouse Terrada, Higashi-Shinagawa
Time: 10:00am–7:00pm (Last entry 6:30pm; Closed 21 October, 18 November, and 1–3 January 2020)
Admission: ¥3500 (Concessions available)
Rejoice, Star Wars fans! This X3 Productions and Lucasfilms collaboration exhibition is finally in Tokyo after making the rounds in Canada, Europe, the UK, and Australia. Not only do you get to see over 200 original props, costumes and artworks up close, all of this in service to constructing your own ‘Star Wars’ identity. An interactive exhibition in the best way possible for fans of the franchise – you’ll walk away from this having become a part of the Star Wars Universe.
2 November 2019 to 24 February 2020
Event: Yebisu Garden Place Winter Illumination
Location: Yebisu Garden Place
Time: Varies by event - see website
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.
Takashi Murakami’s iconic Superflat style © Raffi Asdourian
19 November 2019 – 25 January 2020
Event: Superflat Doraemon
Location: PERROTIN TOKYO
Time: 11:00am–7:00pm (Closed Sundays and Mondays)
Fans of notable Superflat artist Takashi Murakami, you’re in luck – as are fans of the iconic anime and manga series Doraemon. Head over to the Perrotin gallery in Roppongi this winter for a special exhibition where both of these major cultural icons collide. The exhibition features 14 exclusive Doraemon artworks by manga artist Fujiko F. Fujio merged with the colourful, fantastical world of Takashi Murakami’s imagination. Even if you’re unfamiliar with both of them, it’s still a fun look into contemporary Japanese pop culture.
15 - 16 January 2020
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, you’ll have to wait till December 2020.
31 December 2019 - 1 January 2020
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.
A stall display at Setagaya Boroichi. © Hetarllen Mumriken
5 January 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 or thrice a month. So, if that happens, you can try your luck again on 15 and 26 January.
5 January 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.
Fox masks. © Ryo FUKAsawa
8 January 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. If it rains, expect it not to run.
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.
10 - 19 January 2020
Event: Furusato Festival Tokyo
Location: Tokyo Dome City
Time: 10:00am - 9:00pm (ends 6:00pm on 20 January)
Admission: ¥1700 (Concessions available)
If you’ve ever wanted to travel across the whole of Japan but lacked the time and money, hit up the Furusato Festival Tokyo in Tokyo Dome City. Stalls here serve a variety of local dishes from the north to the south of the country, so you can eat your way across Japan without spending time on trains or planes. Besides the food, though, you’ll get to see and experience the most vibrant festivals and performances from across Japan here. Highlights include a giant float from Aomori Prefecture’s Nebuta Festival and Akita Kanto Festival. Eat, drink, and party your way across the nation - all in one place!
Sumo wrestlers getting ready to fight. © Ethan Prater
12 - 26 January 2020
Event: New Year Tokyo Sumo Tournament 2020
Location: Ryogoku Kokugikan
Time: 8:00am - 6:00pm
Admission: From ¥2200
How about kicking off 2020 with the first major sumo tournament of the year? Six are held over the year, and the first one just happens to be in Tokyo. Should you go? Well, watching a video of sumo wrestlers just isn’t the same as witnessing the electric atmosphere live. Plus, each match lasts a minute tops - it’s perfect for people with short attention spans, like young children. And you can even eat and drink in the stadium while you watch matches. Get a glimpse of this fascinating, closed world at the tournament.
Check out our guide on how to purchase tickets for a sumo match.
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.
- 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
- Get essential travel insurance for Tokyo – World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)