With spring just around the corner, March is a great time to head back outdoors and check out all the festivals and markets in Tokyo. From festive dragon dances in downtown Tokyo to boozy shōchū and food festivals, there’s sure to be something for everyone this month.
Yushima Tenjin Shrine © Guilhem Vellut
8 February - 8 March 2018
Event: Yushima Tenjin Plum Festival
Location: Yushima Tenjin Shrine
Time: 8:00am - 7:30pm
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.
2 - 25 March 2018
Event: Cross-Dressers in Ukiyo-e: Exhibition
Location: Ota Memorial Museum of Art (Shibuya/Harajuku)
Time: 10:30am - 5:30pm
Admission: ¥700 (concession rates available)
2017’s anime movie hit “Your Name” showcases a modern take on gender swapping. This notion, along with that of cross-dressing, however, has been around for a long time in Japanese history. The Edo period in particular saw much blurring of gender boundaries in the entertainment industries, particularly for geisha and kabuki actors performing in roles of various genders. The Ota Memorial Museum of Art’s fascinating exhibition of woodblock prints depicting period celebrities, and historical and fictional characters, sheds some light on these practices.
4 March 2018
Event: Oedo Antique Market
Location: Tokyo International Forum (Tokyo Station Area/Marunouchi Area)
Time: 09:00am - 4:00pm
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 moment. So, if that happens, you can try your luck again on 18 March 2018.
10 - 11 March 2018
Event: Japan Local (Furusato) Food Festival
Location: Yoyogi Park
Time: 10:00am – 4:00pm
If you’ve ever wanted to travel across the whole of Japan but lacked the time, try visiting this 2-day food festival at the NHK Broadcasting Center in Yoyogi Park. 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.
Mt. Takao Hiwatari-sai © technostan
11 March 2018
Event: Mt. Takao Hiwatari-sai (Fire-walking Festival)
Location: Mt. Takao
Time: 1:00pm - 5:00pm
Hiwatari-sai - a fire-walking festival - is an annual event taking place on the day of the winter solstice at Mt. Takao. The venue is actually at the foot of the mountain near Takaosanguchi Station, rather than at the top of the mountain where Yakuo-in Temple is located. The festival sees the yamabushi monks (those who practice Shugendo ascetic Buddhism) chanting and walking through the smoldering holy fires to purify their body, followed by believers after the prayers have been donated. It’s an awesome, much-photographed sight. Afterwards, spectators can also try walking barefoot in the coals after the fire has been put out. The path is moderately warm, with no chance of burning one’s feet.
13 March 2018
Event: Kagoshima Shōchū Festival
Time: 5:30pm - 8:45pm
Admission: ¥3500 at the door (¥3000 advanced ticketing)
If you’ve never tried shōchū, there’s no better opportunity than at a festival serving hundreds of different kinds of the stuff. Unlike sake, which is fermented from rice, shōchū is distilled liquor - from sweet potato, rice, barley, and more. At 25~30% alcohol compared to sake’s 15~18%, it’s also much stronger!
At this event, there are 69 booths from all parts of Kagoshima showcasing the wide spectrum of Japanese shōchū rom this region. A must-attend event for the serious shōchū connoisseur, or even if you simply want to have a fun few hours sampling some of the best spirits from Kagoshima.
17 - 18 March 2018
Event: Tea for Peace
Location: Farmer’s Market @UNU, Aoyama
Time: 11:00pm - 5:00pm
The UNU Farmer’s Market is a Tokyo institution. It’s been running for years every weekend in front of the United Nations University in Aoyama, with an ever-changing mix of vendors showcasing local and organic food. On this weekend in March, the market centres around tea of all kinds - ranging from black to white, green to roasted and smoked and everything in between. Tea lovers should make a beeline to the market to sample all the leaves and brews available. Most importantly, the stalls are manned by tea masters, tea farmers, and tea blenders, ready to talk about their wares and share stories over a cup of tea.
Senso-ji Temple © zengame
18 March 2018
Event: Senso-ji Honzon Jigen-e
Location: Senso-ji Temple
Time: 9:15am - 5:00pm
Senso-ji Honzon Jigen-e is a festival in honor of the three men who founded Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa over a thousand years ago. As is the case with most festivals, it sees the portable mikoshi enshrining them being carried from neighbouring Asakusa Shrine around the neighborhood to the temple’s main hall, and back again. The ritual actually starts in the previous evening with the transferring of the spirits to the portable shrines, but the procession itself takes place from the morning of 18 March.
If you’re pressed for time, you can also just come for the kinryu no mai or golden dragon dances taking place at 11:30am, 2:00pm, and 3:30pm respectively. Legend has it that the golden dragon is one of the manifestations of the Bodhisattva Kannon, to which Senso-ji Temple is dedicated. In any case, at 18 meters long, the golden dragon snaking and weaving around to festive music is an unmissable spectacle.
20 March 2018
Event: Ueno Zoo - Free Admission Day
Time: 9:00am - 5:00pm
Ueno Zoo is a beloved institution in Tokyo, not least because it is home to giant pandas from China. This year is also the first time in 29 years that there has been a panda cub born in the zoo resulting from natural mating, making it a rather momentous occasion. Of course, there are numerous kinds animals to see here.
Come 20 March, visitors can visit Ueno Zoo for free. In fact, there are three days a year when Ueno Zoo opens its doors to the public for free: 20 March (Ueno Zoo’s Anniversary Day), 4 May (Greenery Day), and 1 October (Tokyo Citizen’s Day).
21 March - 5 April 2018
Event: Rikugien Cherry Blossom Lightup 2018
Time: Sundown - 9:00pm (Last Admission: 8:30pm)
Around late March to early April, everyone can enjoy one of Tokyo’s most beautiful Japanese landscape gardens after dark. Rikugien’s annual celebrations mean the return of the spring illuminations, when the park and its cherry trees will be lit up when evening falls. Bring your friends after work and enjoy some matcha and Japanese sweets at the teahouse (last orders are at around 7:30pm). You’re sure to have a magical hanami party here.
24 - 25 March 2018
Event: AnimeJapan 2018
Location: Tokyo Big Sight, Odaiba
Time: 10:00am - 5:00pm (Last entry: 4:30pm)
Admission: ¥2200 (concession rates available)
The world’s largest anime trade show is back! AnimeJapan is an annual two-day anime convention showcasing performances, workshops, seminars, live shows, cosplayers, and appearances by creators and actors in the anime industry. Hundreds of companies attend and set up booths showcasing toys, games, software, and so on. It goes without saying that you can find all kinds of limited edition merchandise here. There’s an area specifically for cosplayers to show off their outfits, and families will find the dedicated Family Anime Festa Area perfect for kids.
24 March - 9 April 2018
Event: Nakameguro Cherry Blossom Festival
Time: All day (Illuminations from 6:00pm - 9:00pm)
Nakameguro Canal is one of Tokyo’s most iconic cherry blossom-viewing spots. In the evening between these dates, vendors set up food stalls along the canal, and between the eating and drinking (pink champagne abounds), it’s altogether a very merry time of the year. Most importantly, the cherry trees lining the canal will be lit up with twinkling lights, alongside charming lanterns with the names of businesses and local people written on them. It’s a most magical sight.
Where Are These Places Located?See these places on the Truly Tokyo Google map:
- Open the Tokyo map
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side. (Click the 3-line icon in the top left corner if not). Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want.
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Map pins are color coded - BLUE: Hotels / Ryokan / Guesthouses | VIOLET: Ryokan | PINK: Places to Eat | GREEN: Shops | YELLOW: Things to See and Do
- If you're using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location.
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 with Klook for collection on arrival at Tokyo Narita or Haneda airports
- See my comprehensive Packing List For Japan
- Compare Japan flight prices and timings on Skyscanner
- If you're visiting more than one city, get your Japan Rail Pass
- Find out why it's essential you have travel insurance for Tokyo