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.
Plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin Shrine © grilledahi
13 January 2019 - 31 March 2019
Event: Traditional Culture Experience Programs for Foreign Visitors: Japanese Dance Workshop
Location: Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center
Time: 11:00am - 4:00pm except 17 February
Here’s an idea for your travels in 2019: buy fewer things, experience more. What better way to do that on your holidays in Tokyo than learning something new? Sign up for a 1-hour introduction to Nihon buyo, a traditional dance with a long history of nearly 4 centuries. You’ll get to wear a yukata, make new friends, and experience something money can’t buy. It might be free, but the memories you’ll make here are priceless.
19 January - 17 March 2019
Event: Corona Winter Sauna
Location: Shimokitazawa Cage
Time: 2:00pm - 9:30pm
Admission: From ¥3,000
Cold baths sound counterintuitive in the deep of winter - and yet that’s precisely what you’ll find as part of this event in Shimokitazawa this month. Shimokitazawa Cage - an outdoor event space under the train tracks - hosts all kinds of events, but a Finnish bathing experience hosted by Corona takes the cake. Alternating between a hot sauna and cold baths will purportedly equip you to face the remaining winter days; unlike an onsen hot spring bath, you can even bring a beer into the sauna. This is all public and mixed gender, so don’t forget your bathing suit.
Plum blossoms at Hanegi Park © dishhh
7 February - 7 March 2019
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.
9 February - 3 March 2019
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.
3 March 2019
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 17 March.
Hanazono Shrine © Guilhem Vellut
3 March 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 3, 10, 17, 24, and 31 March. If it rains, expect it not to run.
7 - 10 March 2019
Japan’s largest international art event is back for its 14th year running! This year’s theme is ‘Art Life,’ which means you can expect a broad-ranging variety of art works across all manner of subjects and media. A new section called ‘Crossing’ has been added to the lineup this year, dedicated to all the different styles in today’s art scene intersecting and colliding with each other. Anyone with the remotest interest in art should not miss this event.
Rikugien nighttime cherry blossom illuminations. © marufish
8 March - 7 April 2019
Event: Tokyo Art Book Fair: Ginza Edition at Ginza Sony Park
Location: Ginza Sony Park
Time: 10:00am – 8:00pm
Admission: From ¥4,000
The Ginza Edition of the Tokyo Art Book fair is a small-scale, month-long series of events. We say small-scale only in a comparative sense: the full-blown Art Book Fair - held in July this year - is a veritable visual and literary feast of rather epic proportions that brings publishers, artists, and galleries from all around the world to the city. Still, the Ginza event isn’t too shabby at all - it’s aimed at connecting the audience directly with the makers, so you’ll get to meet and interact with the people and artisans making those zines and books you love. Plus, there are even some workshops to try out. If you love books and art, checking this out is a no-brainer.
9 - 10 March 2019
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.
At the Fire-walking Festival. © technostan
10 March 2019
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.
18 March 2019
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.
Flamingos at Ueno Zoo © kanegen
20 March 2019
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 - 3 April 2019
Event: Rikugien Cherry Blossom Lightup 2019
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.
Cosplayers at an event. © Dick Thomas Johnson
23 - 26 March 2019
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.
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. 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.
- It's essential you have travel insurance for Tokyo - we recommend World Nomads