Summer’s officially arrived in Tokyo! That means firework festivals galore, as well as summer markets, cultural events, and much more.
Fireworks at the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival © Fabian Reus
July does crank up the heat and humidity to sky-high levels. But, the abundance of beer gardens, seasonal shaved ice treats, and limited edition summer drinks on sale all over the city is the secret to beating the heat this month while adventuring in Tokyo.
Put on your best yukata - that’s a summer kimono to you - and head out to a festival or three. Your only difficulty will be deciding which firework festival to attend, as many fall on the same day.
15 March – 15 July 2019
Event: Unko Museum
Location: Aso Building, Yokohama
Time: 10:00am - 9:00pm (last entry 8:30pm)
Admission: ¥1600 (Concessions available)
If you can imagine something, you can bring it into existence. This must surely be the driving principle behind the Unko Museum, or ‘Museum of Poop’ in Yokohama this summer. What else would explain an entire exhibition with three zones centering around one of the grossest, giggle-inducing conversational topics? Some are even interactive, like a poop-shaped light projections you step on, or colourful poop sculptures to take numerous selfies with. Each zone riffs on unko-related wordplay – ‘Un-teractive,’ ‘Un-stagenic,’ and ‘Un-telligence.’ For all the scatological humour, it’s a surprisingly educational form of ‘un-tertainment’ where you can even learn about the history of poop. Luckily, no actual feces are involved in this exhibition.
13 April – 16 September 2019
Animation aficionados, rejoice – the Pixar Exhibition is finally here in Japan! Head over to Tokyo City View in Roppongi for “The Science Behind Pixar,” an exhibition giving visitors unparalleled insights into the animation processes behind the scenes of your favourite Pixar films. All the blockbusters are included here, from Monsters. Inc and The Incredibles to Toy Story and Cars. Whether you’re in the industry and looking to learn from their design and animation processes, or just there for fun hands-on activities and seeing what goes into your favourite films, it’s sure to be a blast for anyone going.
Detail from Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze © Andrew Moore
23 April - 10 July 2019
Event: Gustav Klimt: Vienna - Japan 1900
Location: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Time: 9:30am - 5:30pm (until 8:00pm on Fridays). Closed every 1st and 3rd Mon (Tues if Mon is a holiday)
Admission: JPY1400 (Concessions available)
‘The Kiss’ (1907) may be one of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s most famous works, but it’s just scratching the surface of his life’s work. His Art Nouveau sensibilities and distinctively decorative compositions were deeply influential for Viennese artists, and even today continue to inform and inspire contemporary artists. With over 25 Klimt paintings, supplemented by a number of Japanese artworks reminiscent of Klimt’s style, this exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum gives us a very decent overview of Klimt’s oeuvre a hundred years after his death. While it’s not the most comprehensive Klimt exhibition they could have put together, it’s still a must-see if you’re a fan of his work.
26 April - 8 July 2019
Located in Shibuya, the D47 Museum’s mission is to showcase commercial, industrial and product design and crafts from all 47 prefectures – a great counterpoint to Tokyo-centric narratives at many museums. This time, their exhibition is all about fermentation.
Fermentation is at the heart of Japanese cuisine. It’s indispensable to quintessentially Japanese condiments and foods like sake, miso, soy sauce, and natto. However, delve deeper into regional cuisines and you’ll find a wealth of fermented foods you never knew existed; some are barely known outside their prefectures! Curated by fermentation experts – who knew that could be a job in itself? – you’ll learn about funky foods in Japan, and you can taste them along with sake at the adjacent restaurant. You can even take some fermented foods home if you’re so inclined.
Tanabata festivities. © yisris
4 – 8 July 2019
Tanabata, or the Star Festival, has its origins in the Chinese Qixi festival. It’s based on a folk story about star-crossed lovers who are only allowed to meet once a year - typically on 7 July by most calendar counts. These days, people celebrate by writing their wishes on paper and hanging them on bamboo trees. Shitamachi Tanabata, held in the traditional downtown districts of Ueno and Asakusa, takes the day as a pretext for street performances, parades, dances, food stalls, and general festivities over 4 days in July, making it one of the biggest Tanabata festivals in Tokyo. The parade usually starts at around 1pm on Saturday. Highly recommended.
7 July 2019
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 7, 14, 21, and 28 July. If it rains, expect it not to run.
A variety of morning glory. © TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋)
6 – 8 July 2019
Event: Iriya Asagao Matsuri (Morning Glory Festival)
Location: Iriya Kishimonjin, Iriya
Time: 5:00am – 11:00pm
There’s a festival for everything in Japan, it seems, but who can argue with a country that loves and celebrates its flowers? In early July, head over to Iriya Kishimojin Temple for the glorious Iriya Asagao Matsuri, centered around fabulous morning glories. The Iriya breeds of these flowers have been beloved by all and sundry from around the late Edo period, and it’s worth waking up early to see them in all their – yes – glory. Even if you’re not a gardener, there’s no arguing with the beauty of asagao. Just be forewarned that past events have drawn crowds of around 400,000 – go early to try and beat most of them.
6 July – 8 September 2019
Event: Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine Wind Chime Festival
Location: Hikawa Shrine, Saitama
Time: 9:00am – 9:00pm
If your online dating adventures are proving to be an endless slog of unfulfilling matches, perhaps it’s time to enlist a little divine help. Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine in Saitama is one of Japan’s many ‘love shrines,’ and it’s especially popular with single folks seeking the partner of their dreams – or at least someone they can get along with for a few years! This summer, head to the shrine for a charming festival at the shrine, which for this occasion is decorated with around 2000 colourful wind chimes making beautiful music in the breeze. Who knows – maybe you’ll run into someone nice there. At the very least, it’s a great day trip out of the city.
17 – 21 July 2019
Event: Kawasaki Daishi Fuurin-Ichi
Location: Kawasaki Daishi, Kawasaki
Time: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Summer is windchime season in Japan – the gentle tinkling is believed to create an atmosphere of refreshing coolness – and there are quite a few festivals dedicated to traditional wind bells over the hot months. One to head to this July is the Kawasaki Daishi Fuurin-Ichi, taking place annually at Kawasaki Daishi Temple in Kawasaki for the last two decades. Snack on delicious festival food, maybe pick up some beautifully crafted chimes, and chat to the craftspeople who make them.
Performers at the Shinjuku Eisa Festival © Guilhem Vellut
27 July 2019
Get a taste of Okinawa this July at the Shinjuku Eisa Festival, taking place around the East and West exits of Shinjuku Station. Eisa is a traditional Okinawan dance, and it’s distinctly different from anything you’ll see on the Japanese mainland. Expect bright colours, the sounds of twanging sanshin (three-stringed instrument), merry island vibes, and a million other people trying to take photographs or videos of the proceedings. Cap your night with dinner at an Okinawan restaurant.
27 July 2019
Event: Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Location: Taito Riverside Sports Center
Time: 7:00pm - 8:30pm
The Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is by far the largest summer fireworks festival in Tokyo. Held annually on the last Saturday in July, it began as a competition between rival pyrotechnic groups in 1733, and has continued since - with some breaks for wars and other happenings. Of course, the real winners are the Tokyoites watching this brilliant display for free. You can watch the 90-minute light show from the streets, the rooftops, or even the river boats (for a price).
The downside of this festival is the crowds. You’ll be watching the fireworks along with a million or more people in close quarters at the height of summer, which means heat, sweat, and possibly spending too much money on overpriced beer from the festival stalls. But if that doesn’t faze you, put on your best yukata and head out to the river this July. Don’t forget to bring your own iced drinks.
In the event of stormy weather, the festival might be postponed to the next day. Check their website for updates.
Lantern-covered scaffolding (yagura) at the Ebisu Bon Odori festival. © Tatsuo Yamashita
27 – 28 July 2019
Event: Ebisu Bon Odori Festival
Location: West side of JR Ebisu Station
Time: 6:30pm - 9:00pm
This is one of Tokyo’s major Bon Odori festivals, yet surprisingly under the radar considering its size and reputation. The last weekend in July sees the west side of JR Ebisu Station transformed into a huge dance floor - if dance floors centered around a 3-storey yagura (festive scaffolding) and most of the dancers were clad in colorful happi (festival jackets) and yukata (summer kimono). Taiko drummers set the beat for the cool summer evening, and the usual food and drink stalls ensure a merry atmosphere.
Fireworks at the Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival. © ajari
27 July 2019
Event: Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival
Location: Showa Kinen Park
Time: 7:00pm -8:00 pm
Admission: ¥410 (Free after 6:00pm)
Website: tbt.gr.jp (Japanese)
5000 fireworks might sound like a lot, but by Tokyo standards, this makes the Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival a medium-sized event. Still, a fireworks festival is a fantastic excuse to visit the gorgeous Showa Memorial Park, which is a little further afield in Tachikawa to the west of central Tokyo. While entry is free in the evening, we suggest arriving around or before 5:00pm. It’ll cost you a few hundred yen, but you’ll also be more likely to find the ideal patch of grass to view the fireworks later. Pack a bento box beforehand and enjoy dinner with your firework show.
30 July 2019
30 July is the official Memorial Day for the Emperor Meiji, who passed away in 1912 and was then enshrined at Meiji Jingu in 1920. The main draw at the ceremony for visitors is be the performance of ‘Meiji-Jingu-Yamato-Mai,’ a sacred dance performed by a Shinto priest based on a poem by the Emperor Meiji. It’s an elegant dance inspired by an equally romantic, beautiful poem, exhorting us to have open hearts like the blue skies stretching above us. If that isn’t enough to persuade you, entrance to the Homotsuden (the Treasure Museum) and the Hootsu-Tenjishitsu (the “Treasure Museum Annex” exhibition) is also free of charge on this day.
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