Japan loves festivals more than most things. The beauty, celebration, dedication, and splendour seen at Tokyo festivals is unparalleled! And whatever weekend you happen to be in Tokyo, you’re bound to find some kind of cultural celebration igniting the streets and lighting up the skies. That being said, there are some bigger Tokyo festivals and Tokyo events that are unmissable if you’re in the city. Celebrations in Japan are called matsuri and they range from the celebration of the changing of seasons to historical and religious festivals. Japan being Japan, no matter which of these Tokyo festivals you join in with, you can expect to find a warm and safe atmosphere and plenty of delicious local food to enjoy.
The Hanami period, when the cherry blossoms bloom all over the country, is a big deal in Japan. While neighbouring countries enjoy this period with the customary picnic in the park, and selfies, Japan goes all out and dedicates festivals all over the country to this brief colourful Spring period. The Bokutei Sakura festival is one of the biggest Tokyo events, and offers some stunning views against the lighting of the Tokyo Skytree. A tradition since the Edo period, the tunnel of blossoms along the riverbanks stretch to over 1km and visitors can ride houseboats for a different view of the trees. The stalls along the bank which sell sakura-themed gifts and snacks compliment the event and geisha teahouses provide some of that olde-worlde charm that make the sakura season so special. Sit back and enjoy the view.
When: Spring season (March-April)
If you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo in March and are looking for a place to enjoy all of the weird and wonderful food that Japan has to offer, then you’re going to love this festival. As Tokyo events go, it’s irresistible. Held in the Tokyo Dome in Yoyogi Park, this two-day festival is definitely busy but it’s one of the easiest ways to eat all of the local specialities from the different prefectures of Japan without leaving Tokyo. Trying the different varieties of ramen and sushi is always special but if you’re more interested in Japanese local alcohol then you’re covered with sections dedicated to craft beer, shochu, and sake. With so many delicious offerings, it’s very easy to go overboard.
One of the more fantastic and modern Tokyo festivals is a two-day event where you get to see Tokyo in all of its colourful splendour. Held in the Spring near Shibuya and Yoyogi Park, this event is an absolute delight and provides a real celebration of positivity and coming togetherness. It’s more down to earth than Pride festivals in other countries in some ways but more than makes up for it in terms of costumes where people truly go all out. The street food is another reason to attend with some of the best of Japanese cuisine being made available every year. As usual, you’ll discover plenty of LGBT organisations and find plenty of booths to buy merchandise, gather information, and pick up freebies.
When: Spring (April-May)
One of the biggest Tokyo festivals of the summer involves 12,000 dancers and musicians with performances that date back more than 400 years. As colourful as it is impressive, the dancers parade the streets performing the traditional Awaodori dance and music with traditional instruments like taiko drums (always thrilling to watch) kane bells, lutes, and shinobue flutes. The festival itself has been celebrated for over 60 years and every year once the dancers finish performing, the streets turn in to a big party and celebration after. With plenty of Japanese snacks to buy from the various food stalls like yakitori skewers and dumplings, this is a festival that will leave you with plenty of memories.
When you think about Tokyo events, you might not immediately think of music festivals, but that’s about to change. Japan’s biggest rock festival is held every Summer in both Tokyo and Osaka on the same weekend with half the line up playing on the Saturday and then switching for the Sunday. Bringing in the biggest names internationally and locally with previous artists including Radiohead, The Pixies, and Nine Inch Nails this is definitely an event with something to suit everyone. With a multitude of performances areas overlooking Tokyo Bay, there’s quite a view to be had and in typical festival style, there are an abundance of food and drinks stalls and merchandise booths to spend your money at.
The biggest art and design festival in Asia comes to Tokyo every year and each year it’s difficult not to part with all of your savings at the thousands of stalls to explore here. A celebration of art in all of its forms, local Japanese artists come together to sell their handmade goods which range from paintings to watches, to clothes and jewellery. You can also see live art demonstrations, take part in workshops, watch local bands playing, and there’s a rooftop view of the bay area where you can choose from a number of artisan food vendors. Make sure you wear flat shoes for this one as the amount of walking involved to enjoy it to its full potential is immense.
Fireworks festivals tend to be something we associate with New Year or Bonfire Night if you’re from the UK but this annual Summer festival now it’s 41st year is a huge event and one of the highlights of the Summer in Tokyo. Over 1 million people flock to the river to watch 22,000 fireworks be set off in various music and light displays. Take some drinks down with you and find a good spot to enjoy the view. There are plenty of food vendors there but it’s worth taking your own if you want to avoid the queuing or potentially missing some of the dazzling display.
This fairly modern Tokyo festival (originally started in 1972) is held annually to welcome the coming Autumn. Mikoshi, decorated palanquins said to house kami (gods), are carried through the streets of Kichijoji. Each one is carried by a unique team who dance in their own distinct style as they escort the gods in their beautiful mikoshi. The teams enter a sort of friendly dance competition banter as they pass one another. Beyond this spectacle, festival-goers can find food and game stalls for families and children, and music fills the streets for everyone to dance to and get in the spirit of this fun festival. Tokyo events don’t get much more colourful than this.
Having a festival dedicated to curry seems like going overboard that is, of course, unless you’ve tried Japanese curry. With curry offerings from around the country and from the greatest chefs, this ten-day extravaganza with over 150 vendors is a foodies’ paradise. Before starting it’s best to pick up a curry map from the station which guides you around the area and stalls. If you don’t like curry in the traditional sense, or want to be more adventurous, then there are plenty of fusion dishes on offers, two of the most popular offerings being currywurst and curry pizza.
When: Ten days in October
Around since the Edo period, this Tokyo festival is held in Asakusa every year and primarily serves as a place to buy good luck charms (called kumade or bear hands due to their shape) ready for the next year. Held in front of the Ootori Jinja Shrine and Chokokuji Temple which make a stunning backdrop for the whole evening, the festivities continue on until midnight. A large part of the fun comes from taking your kumade and ‘clawing’ at the good luck so you can catch it in your charm and the rest comes from the excellent craft beer and street food on offer.
When: Three days in November
Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, it's literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.