The cherry blossoms may have come and gone, but now the wisteria, azaleas, and irises are coming into their own. Plus, the outdoor festivities and celebrations ramp up as the weather warms up. May is great month to be outdoors. Soak up the May sunshine with all the events Tokyo has to offer.
Wisteria at Kameido Shrine © Zengame
9 February 2019 - 26 May 2019
Event: Roppongi Crossing 2019: Connexions - Japanese Contemporary Art Here and Now!
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 the sixth edition of Roppongi Crossing, which they hold every three years as an overview of the Japanese contemporary art scene.
This year’s theme, Connexions, is fairly self-explanatory. Expect close examinations of modern communication, social media, social critiques of increasing political and economic polarization, and the like. It’ll be a thought-provoking afternoon on holiday.
12 March - 19 May 2018
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.
14 March - 9 June 2019
Event: Parabola of Pre-Raphaelitism
Location: Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum
Time: 10:00am - 6:00pm (Last admission: 5:30pm)
Opening hours extended on Fridays to 9:00pm
There’s more to this exhibition than a slightly odd, abstract title. The Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum has a fabulous exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites, a secret society of young painters, poets, and art critics. Considered avant-garde for their time, their works were highly emotive and evocative. Lovers of this style of art will enjoy the depth and breadth of the works on display. There are approximately 150 works including oils, watercolours, drawings, tapestries, and stained glass. Unmissable.
Azaleas at Nezu Shrine. © Prelude2000
15 March - 30 June 2019
Event: Sense of Humor
Location: 21_21 Design Sight
Time: 10:00am - 7:00pm
Admission: JPY1100 (Concessions available)
Cross-cultural communication can be tricky, but one of the fastest ways to break down barriers is through humor. Whether it’s slapstick, dark, playful, or just plain weird, humor is fundamental to communicating, and fuels creativity and wonder, too. In this exhibition curated by art director Katsumi Asaba, you’ll find a collection of documents and objects that have inspired and amused him in equal measure. Equally idiosyncratic works by other creators feature too. Don’t expect a barrage of dad jokes, but a number of the exhibits are sure to put a smile on your face.
7 April - 6 May 2019
Event: Bunkyo Tsutsuji Matsuri
Location: Nezu Shrine
Time: time of event (see format in example below)
Flower festivals are a huge visitor draw for shrines and temples, and Nezu Shrine’s Tsutsuji Matsuri or Azalea Festival coincides with the blooming of over 3000 azalea plants in its 300-year old garden. The entry fee is nominal, but gives you access to a large garden of azalea bushes stretching as far as the eye can see, ranging from shades of cream and pink to deepest fuchsia. Have a beverage at the teahouse (open for two weeks between) and various performances throughout the month at the shrine.
The first week of May is the last week to catch the azaleas before this garden is closed to the public again.
9 April - 16 June 2019
Event: Moomin Exhibition: the Art and the Story
Location: Mori Arts Centre Gallery, (Roppongi)
Time: 10:00am - 8:00pm (Last entry 7:30pm)
Admission: JPY1800 (Concessions available)
Hear ye, Moomin fans! If the new Moomin Park in Saitama prefecture wasn’t enough, the Mori Arts Centre Gallery is holding a jumbo Moomin-themed exhibition. Explore the entire history of this iconic Finnish character through more than 500 pieces of Moomin artworks, borrowed from the world’s sole Moomin Museum and creator Tove Jansson’s personal collection. If you reserve your tickets in advance, you’ll even get a small and exclusive bonus gift.
14 April - 6 May 2019
Event: Wisteria Festival
Location: Kameido Tenjin Shrine
Time: All day
Even more alluring than cherry blossoms may be the purple wisteria flowers. If you missed the cherries, late April to early May is a fantastic time to see them. Kameido Tenjin Shrine is a Tokyo favourite for wisteria-viewing, and is popularly billed as one of the best places in the metropolis for these flowers. Clusters of lavender-colored wisteria - planted during the Edo period - dangle from trellises above a tranquil pond filled with koi fish and turtles, creating a gorgeous reflection. Come for the flowers, stay for the festival food.
A parade during Tokyo Rainbow Pride. © Lauren Anderson
28 April - 6 May 2019
Same-sex marriage still isn’t legal in Japan, but the LGBTQ community in Tokyo has a rip-roaring Pride festival every year. Tokyo Rainbow Pride runs over Golden Week, and there are more than 60 events around town where you can celebrate with the community, regardless of your own orientation or gender. 28 and 29 April sees a festival in Yoyogi Park. For a full lineup of all the fun, queer events, visit the website.
Bonus: if you’re a Spotify user, have a look at the 2018 Tokyo Rainbow Pride website and you’ll find a fantastic Spotify playlist curated by the organizers, featuring LGBT musical favorites across various genres. Madonna and Michael Jackson songs make appearances.
3 - 5 May 2019
Event: Heiwajima Antique Fair
Location: Heiwajima Ryutsu Center Building
Time: 10:00am - 5:00pm (until 4:00pm on the last day)
This is, apparently, one of the largest and oldest antique fairs in Japan. It also attracts several hundred antiques dealers from all over the nation, so this bazaar is really less about sifting through the junk for deals, and more about quality antique pieces. Serious shoppers and lovers of all things old should go. You’re likely to score the best deals on the final day of this three-day event.
The Heiwajima Antique Fair is held 5 times a year in March, May, June, September, and December. In the event you miss this month’s fair, you can plan ahead for another one in the coming months.
Panda at Ueno Zoo. © Kanegen
4 May 2019
Ueno Zoo is a beloved institution in Tokyo, not least because it is home to giant pandas from China. If you like zoos or have children who do, it’s not a bad experience, and it can be fun looking at the various animals. And, come 4 May, 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).
4 May 2019
Event: Tokyo Sea Life Park - Free Admission Day
Location: Kasai Rinkai Park
Time: 9:30am – 5:00pm
With marine animals from oceans across the world – the Pacific, Indian Ocean, Atlantic, Arctic and Antarctic – those who love the sea are sure to be thrilled at a day out here. Don’t forget to catch penguin feeding time. The park is, of course, even better is when you can visit for free.
There are three days a year when you can enter for free: 4 May (Greenery Day), 1 October (Tokyo Citizens Day), and 10 October (the aquarium’s Anniversary Day).
Melon bread. © Naotake Murayama
4 - 5 May 2019
Event: Melonpan Festival
Location: 3331 Arts Chiyoda, Suehirocho
Time: 1:00pm - 6:00pm
If you’ve never tried melon pan, you’re in for a treat. It usually has nothing to do with an actual melon; think a fluffy bun covered in a moreish, crisp sugar crust. Bringing together some of Tokyo’s most charming neighbourhood bakeries, this festival in 3331 Arts Chiyoda is dedicated entirely to this sweet treat. Sample your way through dozens of variations on melon pan: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and yes, even melon-flavoured. Funds raised will be donated to charity – now that’s a sweet deal.
2 - 6 May 2019
Event: Gyoza Fes Tokyo
Location: Komazawa Olympic Park General Sports Ground
Time: 10:00am - 9:00pm (8:00pm on 6 May)
Admission: Free; one food ticket costs JPY600
Website: gyo-zafes.jp (Japanese)
Golden Week is here and it can only mean one thing: gyoza. Alright, we jest – any time is a good time to eat these tasty little dumplings. At this festival dedicated entirely to this art form, anything and everything is fair game for filling dumplings. Have them steamed, boiled, pan-fried or deep-fried. Fill them with pork, eggplant, cheese, mayonnaise, garlic, leeks, chocolate. If you can imagine it, it probably exists. The real question is whether you can sample every single dumpling stall at the festival. But hey, that’s exactly why it runs for four days.
Sumo wrestlers squaring off. © Better Than Bacon
11 May 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 to thrice a month. So, if that happens, you can try your luck again on 19 and 26 May 2019.
12 - 26 May 2019
The sumo tournament returns to Tokyo! Watching a sumo tournament live is a spectacular experience. Advance tickets go on sale from 6 April onwards, so make sure you get in early. If you don’t manage to buy a ticket online, you can still purchase tickets on the same day. For more information see our online guides here.
Men carrying a mikoshi at Sanja Matsuri © Guillaume ORTEGA
17 - 19 May 2019
Considered one of the largest and wildest Shinto festivals in Tokyo, the Sanja Matsuri pulls crowds in the millions over three days in mid-May. Asakusa Shrine is also known as Sanja-sama - Shrine of the Three Gods - hence the name of the festival. The first morning sees a grand procession of various people dressed up in Edo-period costumes, followed by a Shinto ceremony and a traditional dance. From the afternoon and on subsequent days, Asakusa’s local neighborhood mikoshi (portable shrine) are brought out and carried through the streets. On Sunday the festivities peak with the carrying of the three main mikoshi - a sight not to be missed.
18 May 2019
Event: International Museum Day 2019
Time: Various (see respective museum websites)
18 May was designated as International Museum Day in 1977 to “encourage public awareness of the role of museums in the development of society.” In light of this, many of the museums in Tokyo - and the majority of large ones in Ueno, including the Shitamachi Museum, the Tokyo National Museum, and the National Museum of Western Art - open their doors to the public for free on this day every year. Free admission day usually falls “on or around” 18 May. Consult the museum websites before going to ensure that you’ll get in for free.
An Eisa performance. © xiquinhosilva
18 - 19 May 2019
Event: Okinawa Matsuri
Location: Yoyogi Park Events Square
Time: 11:00am - 9:00pm
Website: okifes.tokyo (Japanese)
The Okinawa Festival is back again, bringing that famous southern island charm all the way to the big city. This is your chance to delve into the culture of the Ryukyu Islands. Head over to Yoyogi Park and sample all manner of Okinawan specialities from Goya chanpuru (stir-fried bitter gourd) to rafute (braised belly pork) and cap it off with some Orion beer or awamori (Okinawan liquor). Musical performances and traditional Okinawan dances - Eisa - along with the lively twanging of the sanshin (Okinawan three-stringed instrument) make the festivities especially lively.
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 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. Check my guides to arriving at Narita Airport and at Haneda Airport.
- If you're visiting more than one city, you might save money with a Japan Rail Pass – see if it's worth it for you
- A prepaid Suica card makes travelling around Tokyo much easier - here's how
- World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while traveling and claim online from anywhere in the world