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. Don’t forget to catch the last of the plum blossoms, either.
Plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin Shrine © y kawahara
19 November 2019 - 29 March 2020
Event: Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow
Location: Mori Art Museum, Roppongi
Time: 10:00am - 10:00pm (Last Admission:9:30pm）
10:00am - 5:00pm on Tuesdays (Last Admission:4:30pm)
Opening hours extended on 30 April and 25 May
Admission: ¥1800 (Concession rates available)
For the average visitor looking for the best of Japanese and Asian contemporary art in one place, there are few better places than the Mori Art Museum. Located on the 53rd floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi, their well-curated and accessible art exhibitions rarely disappoint. Their current exhibition is Future and the Arts: AI, Robotics, Cities, Life - How Humanity Will Live Tomorrow.
The exhibition is designed around the theme of “What Is True Affluence, What Is It to Be Human, What Is Life?” These timeless questions take on a new urgency and centrality in today’s rapidly-changing world. Expect close examinations of cities, robotics, environmental issues, human lifestyles, and the state of human society. A thought-provoking exhibition for your holiday.
8 February - 8 March 2020
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.
Plum blossoms at Hanegi Park © yy
8 February – 1 March 2020
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.
26 February – 14 June 2020
Event: Peter Doig Exhibition
Location: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Time: 10:00am–5:00pm (until 8:00pm on Fridays and Saturdays; L.A. 30 minutes before closing)
Admission: JPY1700 (Concessions available)
Are you a fan of Gauguin, Van Gogh, Chagall, or Matisse? Then you might just fall in love with this exhibition featuring contemporary Scottish painter Peter Doig. Dubbed a “painter’s painter,” Doig’s works showcase romantic, mystical, and uncanny landscapes, featuring motifs from places he’s lived (from Canada to Trinidad) and paintings by the aforementioned artists. It’s a real romp through the imagination.
Hanazono Shrine © Guilhem Vellut
1 March 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. This month, it’s being held on 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29 March. If it rains, expect it not to run.
7 March 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 generally held twice a month, sometimes thrice. So, if that happens, you can try your luck again on 15 and 29 March.
At the Fire-walking Festival. © technostan
8 March 2020
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.
10 March - 5 April 2020
Event: Cherry Blossom Viewing at the Tokyo National Museum
Location: Tokyo National Museum
Time: 9:30am - 5:00pm (Last Admission: 4:30pm)
Opening hours extended on Fridays and Saturdays, until 9:00pm; and on 30 April and 3 May until 6:00pm
Admission: Various depending on events. See official website.
Come spring each year, the Tokyo National Museum opens its garden to the public. Located behind the main building, the Museum Garden is home to five historic teahouses, not to mention around 10 varieties of gorgeous cherry trees. When you need a break from the various indoor cherry-themed art exhibitions, step outside into the gardens and enjoy the fresh air and vibrant spring greens. Check out the official website for the full list of lectures, concerts, and other events organised in tandem with the cherry blossoms.
17 March – 5 April 2020
Event: Spring Festival in The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Location: National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Time: 10:00am -5:00pm
Cherry blossoms are a beloved motif in Japanese art. In spring, not only can you appreciate scads of real sakura outdoors, you can enjoy artworks of them too. Head to the National Museum of Modern Art for a collection of masterpieces featuring – you guessed it – cherry blossoms. Spring is truly here!
The museum is conveniently located for those visiting the Imperial Palace, and a must-see place particularly in spring when cherry blossoms are in full bloom. You can view Japanese paintings acclaimed as masterpieces along with cherry blossoms, thereby enjoying Japan’s graceful spring.
18 March 2020
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 2020
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 of 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).
20 - 22 March 2020
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.
Cosplayers at an event.© Dick Thomas Johnson
21 - 24 March 2020
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.
Rikugien nighttime cherry blossom illuminations. © Marufish
22 March - 7 April 2020
Event: Rikugien Cherry Blossom Lightup 2020
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.
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
- Get esssential travel insurance for Tokyo – World Nomads is well-regarded (and here's why)