With the worst of the summer heat gone, autumn’s finally in the air! Celebrate fall with all the fantastic festivals October has to offer - from dancing to ramen-slurping to beer-drinking, there’s something for every visitor to Tokyo. If you’d rather be indoors, there’s no shortage of great exhibitions to check out all over the city, too.
Shiota Chiharu’s signature thread installation. © Karen Eliot
20 June – 27 October 2019
Event: Shiota Chiharu: The Soul Trembles
Location: Mori Art Museum (53F, Roppongi Hills Mori Tower)
Time: 10:00am–10:00pm (L.A. 9:30pm); 10:00am – 5:00pm on Tuesdays (L.A. 4:30pm)
Admission: ¥1800 (Concessions available)
Fans of large-scale, immersive artworks will love this exhibition. Berlin-based artist Shiota Chiharu’s solo exhibition at the Mori Art Museum this summer sees her signature series of powerful installations in its gallery spaces. In this dreamlike atmosphere you’ll see tens of thousands of threads are strung across rooms, with objects suspended and almost buried within them. If you’re familiar with Stranger Things, you might even detect faint hints of the Upside Down.
While photography isn’t typically allowed at Mori events, the Shiota Chiharu exhibition is entirely photographable. A good thing too: the installations are all extremely Instagrammable.
19 July – 4 November 2019
Most people aren’t fond of insects, but this exhibition in Roppongi’s excellent design museum might just change your mind. As the name suggests, this exhibition showcases all kinds of created works inspired by insects and everything about them. You’ll see how a study of insectoid skeletal systems inspired the creation of various artificial objects, while their wing structure influenced the movement of certain designed robots. What’s overlooked by most of us, too, is how beautiful insects can be; that’s exactly what this exhibition shows us.
If you can get past all the instinctive and visceral fear, you might just come away from the exhibition with a renewed appreciation for all the creepy-crawlies inhabiting the natural world around us.
20 July – 20 October 2019
Event: MOT Collection Part 2: Pleased to meet you. New Acquisitions in recent years
Location: Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), Koto Ward
Time: 10:00am – 6:00pm (Closed Mondays except 14 October; closed 15 October)
Admission: ¥500 (Concessions available)
The excellent Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) is open again after a 3-year hiatus for renovations, and it’s even better than it was before. During its closure, they acquired around 400 new pieces, some of which are being showcased in this exhibition of pieces from their permanent collection. It’s an impressive exhibition with plenty of hits. The likes of Roy Lichtenstein make an appearance, but we love the introduction to plenty of great contemporary Japanese artists too.
At ¥500 per adult, it’s one of the more affordable exhibitions in a city where entrance fees to art institutions can add up very quickly – great for those travelling on a budget. Plus, the museum itself is a fantastic space to wander around, with most of the building open to visitors for free even if you’re not entering an exhibition. Perfect for art and architecture buffs.
May the force be with you. © Paul Hudson
8 August 2019 – 13 January 2020
Event: Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition
Location: Warehouse Terrada, Higashi-Shinagawa
Time: 10:00am–7:00pm (Last entry 6:30pm; Closed 21 October, 18 November, and 1–3 January 2020)
Admission: ¥3500 (Concessions available)
Rejoice, Star Wars fans! This X3 Productions and Lucasfilms collaboration exhibition is finally in Tokyo after making the rounds in Canada, Europe, the UK, and Australia. Not only do you get to see over 200 original props, costumes and artworks up close, all of this in service to constructing your own ‘Star Wars’ identity. An interactive exhibition in the best way possible for fans of the franchise – you’ll walk away from this having become a part of the Star Wars Universe.
7 September – 4 November 2019
Event: Beautiful Lives: Birds and Flowers in Japanese and East Asian Art
Location: Nezu Museum, Aoyama
Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm (Last entry: 4:30pm; closed Mondays, except 14 October and 4 November; closed 15 October)
Admission: ¥1300 (Concessions available)
Everyone loves birds and flowers, but bird-and-flower paintings as a genre in their own right originated in China and spread to the rest of East Asia over the last few millennia. In this exhibition at the Nezu Museum, they trace the history and stylistic evolution of this genre through pieces from their extensive collection. It’s a must-see for fans of East Asian painting, but also makes a fantastic introduction for anyone unfamiliar with it.
Don’t forget to take some time exploring the garden after looking at all the exhibition pieces – the Nezu Museum garden one of the lushest Japanese-style ones in central Tokyo.
10 September – 4 November 2019
Event: Commemorating the 170th Anniversary of Hokusai’s Death: Hokusai Masterpieces from the Mogi-Honke Museum of Art
Location: Sumida Hokusai Museum
Time: 9:30am – 5:30pm (L.A. 5:00pm; closed Mondays and 15 October)
Admission: ¥1200 (Concessions available)
One of Japan’s most famous and most beloved artworks must surely be Hokusai’s The Great Wave. So the Sumida Hokusai Museum, dedicated to his oeuvre, is a godsend for fans of his art. Held in collaboration with the Mogi-Honke Museum of Art in Chiba prefecture, this exhibition will showcase about a hundred works related to the man himself. This is a great opportunity to see works from various series up close, including pieces from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, and Remarkable Views of Bridges in Various Provinces. Best paired with a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), also nearby.
Cosmos at Showa Kinen Park © ajari
14 September - 27 October 2019
Event: Cosmos Festival 2019
Location: Showa Kinen Park
Time: 9:30am to 5:00pm
Admission: ¥450 (Concessions available)
Flower lovers shouldn’t miss this. It’s not a ‘festival’ in the sense of music, boozing, and dancing; rather, it’s a celebration of these sunny, summery flowers. Wander through 22,800 square meters of fields blanketed in 5.5 million cosmos flowers of various species. Perfect for a romantic date.
21 September – 17 November 2019
Event: Jean-Michel Basquiat: Made in Japan
Location: Mori Arts Center Gallery
Time: 10:00am–10:00pm (L.A. 9:30pm), 10:00am–5:00pm (25 and 26 September, 21 October)
Admission: ¥2100 (Concessions available)
Though he died all too early aged 27, Basquiat’s huge body of vibrant, energetic artwork continues to influence artists today. What’s perhaps less widely known about this 20th century great is how Japan influenced his work. This 2-month exhibition at the Mori Arts Center Gallery brings together 80 Basquiat paintings, objects, and drawings exploring the impact of Japanese history and culture on his art. Unmissable, especially if you’re a Basquiat fan.
Fabulous golden fireworks in summer. © Zengame
5 October 2019
Event: Tamagawa Fireworks Festival
Location: Futako-Tamagawa Sports Ground
Time: 6:00pm - 7:00pm
Summer’s pretty much over, but you can still catch this fireworks festival - it’s one of the last you’ll see in 2019 around Tokyo. Expect the usual vivid displays synchronized to music.
5 – 6 October 2019
Akihabara is pretty much a must-visit at all times, but why not time your visit to coincide with their weekly flea market? Every weekend, the space under the railway tracks near the Electric Town exit for Akihabara Station fills up with around 40 booths. As you’d expect of the area, it’s all perfectly tailored to the otaku crowd. Think manga and anime merchandise of all stripes, from figurines to cosplay accessories, and a whole host of other delightfully strange and specific items. You’ll never have to worry about this parade being rained on, too: the flea market booths are located under the railway tracks.
This month, it’s also being held on 12 and 13, 19 and 20, and 26 and 27 October. If you miss the first weekend, there’s the rest of the month to check it out.
Inside the lush Nezu Museum garden. © Olivier Bruchez
6 October 2019
Event: Museum of Modern Art – Free Admission Day
Location: National Museum of Modern Art
Time: 10:00am – 5:00pm
If you enjoy a place like MoMA, you’ll love the National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT). Their permanent collection primarily showcases Japanese art from the early 20th century all the way up to contemporary times – great if you ever wanted to learn more about artistic developments outside the West at that time. The Pacific War paintings are particularly worth spending some time with.
What’s even better is that the MOMAT is free to enter on the first Sunday of every month. It’s likely to be a little busy, but it’s worth braving the crowds for free entry to a museum like this.
6 October 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 6, 13, 20, and 27 October. If it rains, expect it not to run.
6 October 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 20 October.
11 – 13 October 2019
Event: Taste of Tokyo
Location: Various (See official website)
Time: 11:00am - 8:00pm (Sun 11:00am - 6:00pm)
It’s only fitting that a city this obsessed with food should also hold a giant food festival on the regular. Organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, this festival showcases the best of Tokyo’s food culture, beginning with Japanese food but spanning cuisine from five continents. Almost everything is represented, and there’s the all important sake and craft beer to wash everything down. After that you can even do your weekend grocery shop. If you can find it in Tokyo, you’ll find it at this festival.
Admission is free and most items on sale are JPY500 or less. Go hungry.
Performing team at the Yosakoi Festival. © Marufish
12 – 13 October 2019
Event: The Tokyo Yosakoi Festival
Location: Ikebukuro West Gate Station Plaza
Time: 11:00am - 9:00pm
Website: yosakoitokyo.gr.jp (Japanese)
If you make time for just one festival this month, make it the Tokyo Yosakoi Festival. Having been held annually since 1968, it’s a rip-roaring hyper-energetic dance competition bringing over 100 teams from across the nation to show off their yosakoi dance routines. Think bright costumes, chanting, and oodles of folkish charm.
12 – 13 October 2019
With its sprawl and dozens of neighbourhoods, Tokyo doesn’t lack for festivals throughout the year. One of our favourites takes place in the charming temple-filled neighbourhood of Yanaka. Held annually in early October, the Yanaka Matsuri brings together local community and visitors from the area. You can expect all kinds of charm and liveliness – dance and music performances, festival games, food vendors, and more. Events are held across various venues in the area, including the cemetery, the Yanaka Beer Hall, and Hatsune no Mori square. If you can make the parade, do – watching a portable shrine being carried through the streets is always fun!
Tasty ramen to be had at the festival. © George N
24 October - 4 November 2019
Event: Tokyo Ramen Show 2019
Location: Komazawa Olympic Park General Sports Ground
Time: 10:00am - 9:00pm
Admission: Free (not including ramen)
Sure, you can eat ramen any time you want - but at the annual Tokyo Ramen Show, you can slurp up the best of the best in Japan. The nation’s finest ramen makers gather in Komazawa Olympic Park to show off their noodly goods. Every conceivable style you can think of is represented, along with limited edition event-only specials you won’t find at their shops. Ramen aficionados are serious about their bowls, so be prepared for crowds.
28 October - 5 November 2019
Tokyo's most prestigious film festival is back! The 32nd edition will see another fabulous lineup of special events and screenings. Watch sports films and documentaries at an outdoor screening at the foot of Tokyo Tower; or veg out at the outdoor theatre at Tokyo Midtown Hibiya. Of course, the first day will see celebrities and filmmakers from all over the world walking the red carpet in Roppongi. Check the website for full details on the festivities.
at the Hanazono Shrine festival. © shuets udono
31 October - 25 November 2019
Stemming from a tradition dating back to the Edo period, this is a famous triple-whammy festival at Hanazono-jinja Shrine in Shinjuku, with 3 markets and festivals over three sets of dates. Tori no Ichi, the first, starts with a warm-up festival at night, followed by a full event on the following day. The second and third festivals are on 13 and 25 November respectively. There’ll be stalls selling foods, festival paraphernalia, and kumade rakes that bring good fortune for your businesses. Come hungry and make merry the whole night through.
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