Come September, Tokyo’s heat will have tapered off into comfortably warm temperatures. Join the rest of the city in enjoying the remaining summer days with live music and festivals. As ever, there are plenty of food-themed festivals throughout the month, so make sure you go hungry to these events!
Le Jour ni l’Heure 4323 : Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1960-1988, She Installs Confidence(s?) and Picks up his Brain like a Salad, coll. Yvon Lambert. © Renaud Camus
13 April – 16 September 2019
Animation aficionados, rejoice – the Pixar Exhibition is finally here in Japan! Head over to Tokyo City View in Roppongi for “The Science Behind Pixar,” an exhibition giving visitors unparalleled insights into the animation processes behind the scenes of your favourite Pixar films. All the blockbusters are included here, from Monsters. Inc and The Incredibles to Toy Story and Cars. Whether you’re in the industry and looking to learn from their design and animation processes, or just there for fun hands-on activities and seeing what goes into your favourite films, it’s sure to be a blast for anyone going.
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.
Goldfish swimming in an eerie, colourful installation © Guilhem Vellut
5 July – 23 September 2019
Event: Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium
Location: Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall, Nihonbashi
Time: 11:00am - 11:00pm
Admission: ¥1000 (concession prices available)
The summer’s coolest art exhibition is back. Nihonbashi has been transformed into a goldfish-themed wonderland centered right in the Mitsui Hall. Thousands of live goldfish swim around in fabulously zany glass containers, and along with rainbow-colored lights and laser beams, it promises to be one of the most eye-popping experiences you’ll have all summer. At night, the entire exhibition transforms into one of the coolest club lounges around, with DJs and themed events on weekends. Sip on goldfish cocktails (no actual goldfish harmed in the making) and marvel at the colours and atmosphere.
Night events are popular with Tokyoites and visitors alike. Buy tickets in advance on the official website to avoid queuing on the day - and make sure you’re prepared for crowds.
6 July – 8 September 2019
Event: Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine Wind Chime Festival
Location: Hikawa Shrine, Saitama
Time: 9:00am – 9:00pm
If your online dating adventures are proving to be an endless slog of unfulfilling matches, perhaps it’s time to enlist a little divine help. Kawagoe Hikawa Shrine in Saitama is one of Japan’s many ‘love shrines,’ and it’s especially popular with single folks seeking the partner of their dreams – or at least someone they can get along with for a few years! This summer, head to the shrine for a charming festival at the shrine, which for this occasion is decorated with around 2000 colourful wind chimes making beautiful music in the breeze. Who knows – maybe you’ll run into someone nice there. At the very least, it’s a great day trip out of the city.
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.
31 July – 23 September 2019
Event: Archives: Bauhaus Exhibition
Location: Muji Ginza, Higashi-Ginza
Time: 10:00am – 9:00pm
Though it existed for a short 14 years before shuttering in 1933, the German art school Bauhaus is widely considered to be one of the most important art and design schools in history. Today, Bauhausian sensibilities continue to be influential in fields like design, architecture, industrial design, and typography. The gallery at Muji Ginza takes us through works from the original Bauhaus cohort, with a focus on Marianne Brandt’s photography and lighting equipment, and a few works by Wilhelm Wagenfeld.
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.
Kamasi Washington on stage © Krists Luhaers
30 August - 1 September 2019
Event: 18th Tokyo Jazz Festival
Location: Various (see event website)
Time: Various (see event website)
Admission: Various (see event website)
The Tokyo Jazz Festival is back! Now in its 18th year, it runs for a few days at the end of August and start of September across several venues in town. Ticket prices vary by venue, but some of the events can be enjoyed for free at Keyaki-Namiki Street in Yoyogi Park. It’s a great day out for jazz fans.
This year’s headline act is Kamasi Washington, but there are other stellar musicians in the line-up too. Take your pick from performers such as Snarky Puppy, The Chick Corea Elektric Band, Mesell Ndegeocello, and the Avishai Cohen Trio. Visit the official website for the full list of performances.
1 September 2019
Event: Hanazono Shrine Antique Market
Location: Hanazono Shrine
Time: 6:30am - 3:00pm
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 September. If it rains, expect it not to run.
Fireworks at the Chofu Autumn Fireworks © Zengame
7 September 2019
Event: Chofu Autumn Fireworks
Location: Banks of the Tama River, Chofu
Time: 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Admission: Free (Paid tickets available)
Located out west of Central Tokyo, Chofu City is home to the gorgeous Tama River and a number of movie studios and film companies. This is probably why their firework festival is also known as ‘City of Cinema: Chofu Autumn Fireworks.’ That, and the 10,000 rockets launched over the river are set to music ranging from movie soundtracks to pop songs. It’s one of Tokyo’s less well-known festivals, but you can tell they’re not holding back on anything! Expect around 35,000 people to turn up to this aerial extravaganza.
You can watch for free, but if you prefer some vestiges of comfort, check out the paid seating areas at the official website. You can purchase them in lots of two, four, and ten.
7 – 8 September 2019
Event: Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine Festival
Location: Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine, Daizawa
Time: 12:00pm - 8:00pm
If you haven’t had enough summer festivals yet, here’s another one for you. The Kitazawa Hachimanjinja Matsuri is another local neighborhood festival, this time taking place in the charming and moderately quirky Shimokitazawa area. While it runs over the weekend, you’ll have to come on Sunday to see the omikoshi (shoulder-borne shrines) and dashi (wheeled floats). A fun, family-friendly event.
At the Sanma Festival © Gene Jackson
7 – 8 September 2019
Event: Afro-American-Caribbean Cultural Festival 2019
Location: Yoyogi Park Keyaki Street
Time: 10:00am - 8:00pm
If you’re craving fried plantains, here’s your chance to fill up on the most delicious carbohydrate in the world. The Afro-American Caribbean Festa in Yoyogi Park’s Keyaki Street promises fabulous food from Tokyo’s African and Caribbean communities, accompanied by exuberant and funky music to get you dancing throughout the day. Whether you’re into salsa or samba, you’re sure to find someone to dance with. (Or you can just watch the live performances.)
9 September 2019
Event: Meguro Sanma Matsuri
Location: Meguro Station Shopping Arcade, East Exit of JR Meguro Station
Time: 10:00am - 2:00pm
Website: asahi-net.or.jp (Japanese)
Everybody loves free food. The annual Meguro Sanma Matsuri is back again, and this year, they’re giving away 7000 grilled sanma (pacific saury) to mark the beginning of the season for this fish. The fish comes fresh from Miyako City in Iwate Prefecture. If you want one, head down to the east side of Meguro Station at 10:00am for one. Queuing is a national sport in Japan, so this will probably be the longest line you’ve ever seen. The organizers advise bringing drinks to stay hydrated while waiting in line. The heat can be dangerous!
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.
At an antique and flea market, Tokyo © shuzo serikawa
13 – 15 September 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.
14 – 15 September 2019
Event: Tokyo Game Show 2019
Location: Makuhari Messe, Mihama Ward, Chiba
Time: 10:00am - 5:00pm
Admission: ¥1200 (concession and advance ticket prices available)
Gamers, mark your calendars. One of the top gaming shows in the world is back this year, and you'll want to make a game plan for visiting. Whether you're looking for the newest games from huge companies or checking out independent producers, turning up early will ensure that you spend less time queuing at the booths than you otherwise would. Of course, you could also just go to check out the cosplayers.
You can purchase tickets on the day - which will mean standing in line for more time than you otherwise would - but we suggest buying tickets in advance directly from the organisers. Plus, it'll give you a JPY200 discount when you do.
A lively scene at the Nezu Shrine Festival © Guilhem Vellut
21 – 22 September 2019
Event: Nezu Shrine Festival
Location: Nezu Shrine
Time: 12:00pm - 8:00pm
While Nezu Shrine is usually rather quiet and tranquil throughout the year, the Nezu Shrine Festival enlivens the shrine grounds with the usual medley of food stalls, traditional music, dancing, and the omikoshi procession. It’s not all that different from the average neighborhood festival, but has a great local feel to it. If you want to watch the dance performances, turn up at 7pm on both days, or at 2pm on the Sunday. It’s a festival worth dropping by if you’re in the neighborhood.
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.
Fireworks in summer. © Marufish
28 September 2019
Event: Kita-ku Fireworks Festival
Location: Akabane Sakuratsutsumi Greenery, Akabane
Time: 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Here’s your chance to catch one of the last fireworks festival before the autumn winds start blowing in! In honour of the 8th consecutive year of the Kita-ku Fireworks Festival, they’ll launch a whopping 8,888 fireworks into the sky. This takes place behind the old Iwabuchi sluice gate, making for a vibrant contrast with the antique dam. While it’s free to watch, you can purchase tickets for paid seats at the official website if you like.
Note that the show will take place in the event of rain, but stormy weather will see it cancelled. So if a typhoon rolls in to town, you know to cancel your plans.
28 – 29 September 2019
Event: Nikkan Koryu Festival
Location: Hibiya Park
Time: 11:00am - 8:00pm
Relations between Japan and Korea aren't always great, but at least there's this annual festival to help keep grassroots relations going. This cultural exchange festival has been running for 10 years now, and it's a fabulous event to immerse yourself in Korean culture. Eat your fill of kimchi, drink plenty of makgeolli (a slightly sweet, fizzy rice sake), and watch the traditional dance and music performances. Stay for the K-pop star who'll grace the stage - but you'll have to wait until the day to find out who it is.
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