Mao Goto is a Japanese freelancer who was born in Hayama, Kanagawa prefecture and raised in Tokyo. Since 2016 she lives in the Taito Ward, home to a lot of Japanese culture hotspots such as Asakusa, Akihabara, and Ueno. She has been interested in the field of English education in Japan and got her Master’s degree in March 2020. A lover of photography, travel, sweets, and cross-stitch. Contact her via Facebook.
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Tokyo, the epicenter of Japan, is a city that has embraced the new while at the same time preserving many of its traditional aspects. One of these traditional aspects is the city’s festivals – known as matsuri -, many of which are held annually. These festivals attract many tourists as well as locals and bring a lot of excitement and fun to the areas where they take place. From those showcasing beautiful fireworks to those encouraging you to dance the night away, this article will introduce 10 of the best festivals from all across Tokyo.
- 1. Sanja Matsuri
- 2. Kanda Matsuri
- 3. Sanno Matsuri
- 4. Koenji Awa Odori Festival
- 5. Sumida River Fireworks Festival
- 6. Hibiya Bon Odori
- 7. Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri
- 8. Mitama Matsuri
- 9. Azabu Juban Noryo Matsuri
- 10. Shusse-no-Ishidan Matsuri
- Japan Wonder Travel Tours in Tokyo
- Other articles you might be interested in
1. Sanja Matsuri
If you visit Asakusa for sightseeing in May, you need to experience the Sanja Matsuri. The Sanja Matsuri is an Edo-style festival held at Asakusa Shrine from Friday to Sunday on the third full weekend of May every year. Nearly one million people visit the festival to admire the mikoshi (portable shrines) and enjoy the food stalls scattered around the Asakusa neighborhood. During the festival, the mikoshi are shaken violently as they are carried around the area. This is called “tamafuri” (魂振り) and is said to increase the power of the gods inside the portable shrines and to spread the power of the gods throughout the area. With many food stalls and festival games available, the Sanja Matsuri is a casual yet somewhat rowdy event.
When: Late May
Official website: Sanja Matsuri
2. Kanda Matsuri
The Kanda Matsuri, held at Kanda Myojin, is one of Tokyo’s most famous festivals. Kanda Myojin has a very long history: it was founded in 730 and was one of the most important shrines in Edo (Tokyo) during the Edo period. Kanda Matsuri is held there for a total of six days, each day hosting different events of which we especially recommend the so-called “Shinkou-sai” (神幸祭) event. During the main festival, known as “Hon-matsuri” (本祭) there’s an abundance of things to see, including a parade with people dressed in Heian-period clothing and gorgeous golden mikoshi being carried around Kanda – definitely must-see events at the Kanda Matsuri.
Official website: Kanda Matsuri
3. Sanno Matsuri
The Sanno Matsuri is usually held in June at Hie Shrine which is only a few minutes’ walk from Akasaka and Tameike-Sanno stations and attracts many visitors. As with the Kanda Festival, the “Shinkou-sai” event is highly recommended. Although the main festival is held only in certain years like the Kanda Matsuri above, Sanno Matsuri’s “Shinkou-sai” event is a nine-hour long procession of about 500 kimono-clad people walking from Yotsuya to Shinbashi, a distance of roughly 23 kilometers. There’s plenty of good options for great views along the route, and if you want to enjoy the historical atmosphere of Japan combined with the contrast of Tokyo’s modern urbanity, this festival is a good choice.
Official website: Sanno Matsuri
4. Koenji Awa Odori Festival
The place to experience Awaodori dancers in Tokyo is at the famous Koenji Awa Odori Festival. It attracts one million spectators every year and is now known as one of the major festivals of Suginami Ward. This festival lasts for three days, and the number of people performing at the festival can be as many as 10,000. Held mainly in the area around Koenji Station on the JR Chuo Line, the dance engages a lively and energetic atmosphere spilling out onto the streets throughout the neighborhood. For those who want to enjoy the festival in a more relaxed way, paid seating is also available.
Official website: Koenji Awa Odori Festival
5. Sumida River Fireworks Festival
Sumida is the home of Tokyo Sky Tree, and the Sumida River Fireworks Festival, held on the banks of the Sumida River snaking its way through the ward, is one of Tokyo’s major summer fireworks festivals. Held every year on the last Saturday in July, the festival takes place at two different locations, the first site being near Sakura Bridge displaying approximately 9,350 fireworks, and the second site being near Komagata Bridge displaying approximately 10,650. The Sumida River Fireworks Festival has a history of about 400 years and has become a Tokyo summer tradition which is broadcasted live on TV every year. Enjoy watching the 20,000 fireworks illuminate the night sky over Sumida!
When: Late July
Official website: Sumida Fireworks Festival
6. Hibiya Bon Odori
Hibiya Bon Odori is a large-scale Bon Festival held in central Tokyo where people dance the so-called ondo (音頭) to a song called “Marunouchi Ondo” (丸の内音頭). Marunouchi Ondo is also known as the original song of “Tokyo Ondo” (東京音頭), which is the standard song for Bon dances throughout Japan today. Anyone can participate, so feel free to join the Bon Odori circle if you feel like it. During the Bon Festival, a limited number of Marunouchi Ondo tenugui (hand towels) are sold for 300 yen each and include tickets for a raffle with gorgeous prizes, so why don’t you buy one as a souvenir and try your luck?
7. Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri
The Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri, known as one of the “Three Great Festivals of Edo” together with the Kanda Matsuri and the Sanno Matsuri, is held annually around August 15. This festival takes place at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in Fukagawa and boasts a history of approximately 370 years. During the main festival year, 53 portable shrines are carried around the shrine. This is also known as the mizukake matsuri (water-sprinkling festival) as the mikoshi bearers are sprinkled with purifying water by spectators along the route. It’s a major event in Fukagawa where both mikoshi bearers and onlookers enjoy some much needed cooling down during Tokyo’s hot summers.
8. Mitama Matsuri
Yasukuni Shrine in Chiyoda Ward celebrates its Mitama Matsuri from July 13th to 16th every year during the Obon period. The somewhat controversial Yasukuni Shrine hosts a festival to mourn the spirits of warriors who died at the end of the Edo period as well as those who sacrificed their lives for their country in wars later on. More than 30,000 smaller and larger lanterns are lit at night, and a ceremony is held to mourn the spirits at the main shrine. Although the purpose of the festival is ceremonial, the lanterns displayed at Yasukuni Shrine shine so beautifully that the shrine is crowded with people wanting to soak up the atmosphere every year.
Official website: Mitama Matsuri
9. Azabu Juban Noryo Matsuri
Azabu Juban in Minato, near famous tourist areas such as Roppongi and Tokyo Tower, hosts the Azabu Juban Noryo Matsuri in late August. The two-day festival attracts about 300,000 visitors each year. About 250 stalls, including not only local Azabu restaurants but also stalls selling local cuisine from various regions of Japan, allow visitors to enjoy delicious gourmet food from all corners of the country. On a special stage, traditional Japanese cultural performances are held to entertain the audience. If you are looking for a different gourmet experience in Azabu Juban, this festival will be a great option for you.
10. Shusse-no-Ishidan Matsuri
Every two years in late September, Atago Shrine in Minato throws the Shusse-no-Ishidan Matsuri. The 86 stone steps leading to the shrine are known for being exceptionally steep. During the festival, mikoshi bearers climb the steps carrying a hexagonal portable shrine. The atmosphere is intense as the audience watches the climb in excitement, rewarding the mikoshi bearers with a big round of applause once the portable shrine makes it to the top.
We hope we made you feel inspired after reading this article about some of Tokyo’s best festivals. Unfortunately, some festivals have been canceled the last couple of years due to COVID-19, so be sure to check the official website in advance to see whether the festival will be held or not. A festival is a great opportunity to soak up the festive atmosphere while snacking on some delicious festival fare. Which one will you be attending during your trip to Japan?
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