In the spring and summer months, many traditional festivals or events are held in Tokyo. The long (hot) summer makes for great conditions for outdoor activities. Traditional events will give you a good chance for you to feel and understand the Japanese culture. In this article, we introduce 10 traditional events. First 5 summer traditional events followed by 5 spring traditional events.
Traditional summer events
1. Sumida River Fireworks
One of the most famous and crowded firework festivals in Japan. The Sumida River Fireworks event takes place around the Sumida River. The origin of this festival is thought to be back in 1733 when the Shogun held a memorial service for those who died in a plague and lots of fireworks where launched. The festival takes place once a year on the last Saturday in July. Over 20,000 fireworks are launched from 2 different locations around the river. The fireworks are spectacular and beautiful, and there are also many stalls selling Japanese sweets and food.
Sumida River Fireworks
Last Saturday in July
2. Kagurazaka Matsuri
This is a local festival held over four days during the month of July in Kagurazaka-dori, the main shopping street. The first two days revolve around the Hozuki Market. Hozuki means “Japanese lantern” and you will be able to see many stalls selling Hozuki pots, as well as traditional Japanese food stall. The Awa-odori Festival is held during the following two days and mainly features Japanese dancers performing traditional Japanese dances on the street.
Kagurazaka Matsuri Festival
3. Mitama Matsuri
The Mitama Matsuri Festival dates back to 1947 and it is held annually over four days during the month July. It is one of Tokyo’s biggest Obon festivals, honouring the dead. This festival is especially famous for the 30,000 lanterns that are hung along the promenade all the way to the Yasukuni Shrine. The line of lanterns creates a magnificent view, great for picture taking! Aside from the lanterns, the traditional food stalls are the other major attraction of this festival. You will see many Japanese people dressed up in yukata and the taiko drummers performing live on stage. Lastly, and perhaps the most impressive view of all, are mikoshi (portable shrine) being carried all the way down to the shrine.
Mitama Matsuri (Japanese only)
4. Fukagawa Matsuri
The Fukagawa Matsuri dates back to 1642 and is held yearly over five days in mid-August. It is a religious festival that takes place at Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine and it is considered one of the three major festivals of Edo. This festival is more informally known as the Mizukake Matsuri, which means “water splashing festival” since people splash purifying water at the mikoshi (portable shrine) carriers. It you plan to attend this festival, be careful as there is a chance you might also get wet!
5. Akasaka Hikawa Matsuri
Attracting over 20,000 people and with around 300 years of history, the Akasaka Hikawa Matsuri takes place three days during mid-September in Akasaka Hikawa Jinja (Shinto shrine). During the festival dashi floats and mikoshi are moved around by local people from Akasaka Sakasu to all towns of Akasaka, before reaching the final destination Akasaka Hikawa Shrine, just before noon. After a little break, the carriers take the mikoshi back to their own towns. Other interesting events that take place during the festival include Bon-Odori dance and the Akasaka Meitengai where you can find shops selling local products.
Akasaka Hikawa Matsuri
Traditional spring events
6. Kanda Matsuri
With more than 400 years of history, the Kanda Matsuri is one of the three major Shinto festivals in Tokyo held in May in odd-numbered years. The festival takes place in the Kanda Myojin Shrine that enshrines three deities: Daikokuten, Ebisu and Taira Masakado. This shrine is often visited by Japanese people who come to pray for success in business, good health and marriage. The event lasts for one whole week but we recommend you to take a peek at the procession through central Tokyo and the parades of hundreds of mikoshi through several neighbourhoods on Sunday.
May in odd-numbered years
7. Hiwatari Matsuri (Fire-walking Festival)
The Hiwatari Matsuri or Mt. Takao’s Fire Walking Festival is a Buddhist festival held annually on the second Sunday of March in Takaosan Car Park, close to Takaosanguchi Station. The most impressive aspect of this festival are the yamabushi, the monks from the temple of Takao-san Yakou-in, walking barefoot over hot coals as they chant, praying for peace on earth, health, longevity and safety from disasters. You will have the opportunity to walk over the coals when the temperature has gone down considerably and there is no danger of burning your feet. We recommend you get early to location to get a good view as is will be crowded. There will also be plenty of food stalls selling the usual festival food.
Second Sunday of March
8. Sanja Matsuri
This festival is held annually over three days on the third weekend of May at the Asakusa Shrine. It honours the three men who founded the Buddhist temple Senso-ji. It is considered one of the largest festivals in Tokyo where all groups of the society are unified. In fact, this is also one fo the events where yakuza carry a mikoshi, while wearing only fundoshi, the traditional Japanese undergarment for adult males. It is a rare chance to actually see the body tattoos, it is something that’s usually against the law. You can expect to see over 100 mikoshi, geishas and taiko drummers performing traditional dances and music with costumes from the Edo period.
Hanami or Cherry Blossom Festival is a traditional festival to welcome spring. In Tokyo alone, several different Hanami festivals are organised. They usually take place around the end of March and beginning of April, during the cherry blossom season. During the Sakura season friends, family and co-workers gather together to eat and drink under the sakura trees. We recommend you to go to Shinjuku Gyoen, one of the most beautiful gardens in Tokyo where you will certainly have a gorgeous view of the cherry blossoms. For other great locations read our blog of Best Cherry Blossom viewing spots in Tokyo.
10. Asakusa Yabusame
Asakusa Yabusame takes place in mid- April near Sumida Park. You will have the opportunity to witness the traditional Japanese martial art of yabusame – horse mounted archery. While watching you will soon realise that it is extremely difficult to hit a target while riding a horse. The riders are dressed in traditional clothing from the 12th– 13th centuries. Fun fact: This festival was originally a competition used by samurai improve their skills.
There is a limited number of seats so we recommend you to arrive at the event before the starting time (11am). Whilst there is a free viewing area, you also have the option to purchase a ticket in advance.
Many traditional events are held during spring and summer in Tokyo. If you have a chance to travel to Japan during this time of the year, we strongly recommend you to reserve some time to visit one of the above mentioned festivals. This will give you a special glimpse of the traditional Japanese festival culture and customs.