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.
1 July 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 15 July.
5 - 9 July 2018
Event: Shitamachi Tanabata
Location: Kappabashi Kitchen Town
Time: 10:00am - 8:00pm
Website: Shitamachi-Tanabata.com (Japanese only)
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.
14 April - 8 July 2018
Event: Masterpieces of French Landscape Paintings from The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Location: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Time: 9:30am – 5:30pm (Last admission 5:00pm)
Opening hours extended on Fridays 9:30am - 8:00pm (Last admission 7:30pm)
Admission: ¥1400 (Concession rates available)
Closed: Mondays (except 30 April)
Website: Pushkin2018.jp (Japanese)
Moscow’s Pushkin Museum has a fantastic collection of French paintings, including major names such as Cezanne, Gauguin, Rosseau, and Renoir. But there’s no need to travel all the way to Russia: this spring, visitors to Japan can enjoy a sampling of its collection at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Transport yourself to France and take a whirlwind tour of the 17th to 20th centuries through its landscape paintings. Monet-lovers will not want to miss this.
Performers at the Shinjuku Eisa Festival © Guilhem Vellut
14 - 15 July 2018
Event: Brazilian Day
Location: Yoyogi Park Events Square
Time: 11:00am - 8:00pm
Website: FestivalBrasil.jp (Japanese)
The Festival Brasil is back in Yoyogi Park! Japan can seem like a fairly homogenous nation, but it’s really home to around 300,000 Brazilian immigrants - the third largest immigrant population in the country - making it a not insignificant event for everybody involved.
More importantly, the festival is super fun. The highlight here: performances by singer Carla Vivi, and capoeira performances that’ll have you wanting to sign up for classes right after. This festival is your chance to try all kinds of Brazilian food, including churrasco (grilled meat) and feijoada - that’s Brazil’s ultra-delicious national dish of rice, stewed beans, and pork.
28 July 2018
Event: Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Location: Taito Riverside Sports Center
Time: 7:05pm - 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
28 - 29 July 2018
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
29 July 2018
Event: Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival
Location: Showa Kinen Park
Time: 7:20pm -8:20 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.
29 July 2018
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.
Day and night (1938) by M.C. Escher © Pedro Ribeiro Simões
6 June - 29 July 2018
Event: The Miracle of M.C. Escher: Prints from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Location: Ueno Royal Museum
Time: 10:00am - 5:00pm (10:00am - 8:00pm on Fridays)
Admission: ¥1600 (concession rates available)
Even if you haven’t heard of M.C. Escher, you’ve most likely encountered one of the mind-bending, dizzying optical illusions that are his hallmark. Some of his best pieces have been flown in to Tokyo all the way from the Israel Museum - a grand total of around 150 pieces. Experience them in person at the Ueno Royal Museum’s exhibition, held in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of his birth. It’ll be an afternoon to make your head spin.
30 July 2018
Event: Meiji-Tenno-Sai: Emperor Meiji Memorial Ceremony
Location: Meiji Jingu Shrine
Time: 9:00am onwards
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.
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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