Expect a total sell-out for travel and lodging during Japan's biggest
holidays, New Year (29 December to 6 January) and Golden Week (the lumping
together of Green Day, Constitution Day and Children's Day from 27 April
to 5 May). Other festivals include Adult's Day (15 January), when ceremonies
are held for boys and girls who have reached the age of majority (20).
The Japanese celebrate the end of winter in association with Adult's Day
by indulging in bean throwing while chanting 'in with good fortune, out
with the devils'. Hanami (Blossom Viewing) usually runs from February
to April; the romantic Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival) is on 7 July;
and O Bon (Festival of the Dead), when lanterns are floated on rivers,
lakes or the sea to signify the return of the departed to the underworld,
takes place in mid-August.
Of the many festivals taking place in Tokyo year-round, special mention
needs to be given to the typically quirky Japanese festival of Hari-kuyo.
In early February women lay to rest the pins and needles that have broken
throughout the previous year by 'burying' them in tofu and radishes.
21 Mar - Spring Equinox Day
23 Sep - Autumn Equinox Day
10 Oct - Sports Day
3 May - Constitution Memorial Day
11 Feb - National Foundation Day
15 Jan - Adult's Day
20 Jul - Marine Day
15 Sep - Respect for the Aged Day
23 Nov - Labour Thanksgiving Day
23 Dec - Emperor's Birthday
3 Nov - Culture Day
29 Apr - Green Day
1 Jan - New Year's Day
5 May - Children's Day
On Ganjitsu, or New Year’s Day, one of Japan’s most important
holidays, it’s customary to visit Buddhist and Shinto shrines to
pray for good luck.
Ippan Sanga, on Jan. 2, is one of only two days when Imperial Palace grounds
are open to the public. The Emperor waves to well wishers from behind
bulletproof glass. Entrance to the gardens is by Niju-bashi Bridge.
New Year's decorations of pine and straw are taken to the Torigoe Shrine
for a bonfire. Pounded rice cakes, cooked in the embers, are consumed
in hopes of bringing good health.
Firemen dressed in Edo-period costumes go on parade, later performing
acrobatic stunts on top of bamboo ladders at Harumi Pier - Chuo dori.
Sumo Tournaments, called Hon-basho, draw crowds during 15-day stretches
from the second to fourth Sundays in January, May and September at Kokugikan.
Seijin-no-hi, known as Adult’s Day, honors those reaching the age
of 20 with a traditional display of archery at Meiji-jingu.
This unusual Japanese festival focuses on needles and pins broken in the
previous year, laid to rest by being buried in tofu and radishes.
Set to the lunar calendar, Setsubun marks advent of spring. Festivities
at temples and shrines include the scattering of dried beans to banish
evil spirits. At Senso-ji Temple, a classical dance of the seven gods
of fortune is performed.
Golden Dragon Dance
Celebrating discovery of the golden image of Kannon, now resting there,
dances are performed throughout the day at the Senso-ji Temple.
The Doll Festival, known as Hini Matsuri, honors girls to wish them future
From April through October, the Tokyo Dome hosts two professional teams,
the Yomiuri Giants and the Nippon Ham Fighters. The Yakult Swallows play
at Jingu Stadium.
Rice Harvesting Festival
Hailing a bounty of rice supplied by the gods, men are compelled to consume
quantities of rice while priests perform sacred dances to accompany the
ceremonial “pig-out” at Rinno-ji Temple.
For Buddha’s birthday, known as Hana Matsuri, celebrations are held
at Senso-ji Temple and Zojo-ji Temple as well as various other Temples
When cherry blossoms bloom, Ueno Park and other blossom-blessed locations
come alive with singing, dancing and general good cheer.
Celebration honoring heroes of the past takes place in Kamakura on the
second and third Sundays. Horseback archery, a parade of portable shrines
and sacred dances unfold at the Hachiman-gu Shrine.
The Emperor's Birthday, April 29, is one only two days when the public
is allowed on Imperial Palace grounds. Entrance to the gardens is by Niju-bashi
Kodomo-no-hi is a national holiday for children, especially boys, where
streamers are flown from poles throughout Japan to symbolize strength
Black Ship Festival
The Black Ship Festival celebrates the first landing of American Commodore
Perry with parades and fireworks on the Izu-hanto Peninsula.
Festivities at the Tosho-gu Shrine include horseback archery and a costumed
re-enactment of the delivery of Tokugawa Leyasu's remains to Nikko.
On the third weekend in May, up to 100 mikoshi (portable shrines) are
carried by participants in traditional attire.
Held only on odd numbered years, Kanda Matsuri celebrates a Tokugawa battle
In mid June, this Edo festival is held near the Akaska-mitsuke subway
station featuring music, dancing and portable shrines known as mikoshi.
Ashino-ko Kasui Matsuri
The Ashino-ko Kasui Matsuri festival, held in Moto-Hakone, features a
fireworks display over Ashino-ko Lake at the Hakone-jinja Shrine.
During O-bon, Buddhists believe the dead revisit the earth. Dances are
held and lanterns are lit at various sites throughout Tokyo in memory
Tarai-nori Kyoso is quite the silly race held in Ito on Izu-hanto, involving
paddling down the Matsukawa River in washtubs using only rice scoops as
Triton Summer Festival
Extending into August, Harumi Triton Square becomes the venue for sports-inspired
films presented on the giant Triton Terrace Screen, part of the Triton
Sumida-gawa Hanabi Taikai
One of Japan’s biggest displays of fireworks takes place on the
last Saturday of July in Asakusa along the Sumida-gawa River.
Asakusa Samba Carnival
The Asakusa Samba Carnival draws a huge crowd and features a parade down
Kaminarimon-dori by scantily attired dancers.
Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri
A three-day festival where mikoshi bearers run through frenzied crowds
dousing them with water is held near the Monzennakacho subway station.
Hakone Daimonji-yaki Festival
The lighting of torches, taking on the form of the Chinese character for
“large” or “'great,” marks this festival held
Amusement Machine Show
A showcase of more than 2,000 arcade games not yet in circulation are
the highlight of this show going strong for more than 40 years at the
Tokyo Big Site East Halls.
Hon-Basho Sumo Tournaments
Sumo tournaments take place from the second to the fourth Sundays in September
for a stretch of 15 days.
Tokyo Gay and Lesbian Pride
September brings a month-long festival of music and the arts culminating
in an annual parade attracting thousands celebrating gay and lesbian pride.
Hachimangu Matsuri festivities include a parade of mikoshi and a display
of horseback archery.
Furusato Tokyo Matsuri
Metropolitan Citizen's Day celebrations take place throughout Tokyo on
the first weekend in October.
Dolls are offered to Kannon by childless couples hoping for offspring.
Priests conduct a ceremonial burning of dolls offered the previous year
in Ueno-koen Park.
Oeshiki commemorates Nichiren, founder of the Nichiren sect of Buddhism.
On this night, people bring lanterns and paper flower arrangements to
the Hommon-ji Temple.
The autumn festival known as Tosho-gu features an equestrian archery performance
similar to Nikko's Grand Festival staged in May.
Through early November, Meiji Reidaisai commemorates the Meiji emperor’s
birthday. Festivities include horseback archery, music and dance.
Hakone Daimyo Gyoretsu
Hakone re-enacts a feudal lord's procession with hundreds of participants
dressed in costume.
Seven - Five - Three Festival
For Shichi-go-san, parents dress children ages 7, 5 and 3 in traditional
attire to give thanks for their safety at several shrines, notably at
Meiji-jingu, Sanno Hie-jinja and Yasukuni-jinja.
Gishi-sai marks the 47 ronin (masterless samurai) committing ritual suicide
after avenging the death of their master, and features a parade of warriors
to Sengaku-ji and a memorial service.
Joya no Kane and Ganjitsu
New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are times to visit temples and shrines
to pray for health, happiness and prosperity. At midnight, Buddhist temple
bells ring to clear away evil human passions.
When to Go
Blooming cherry blossoms should be reason enough to visit Tokyo in spring.
Likewise, the mellow hues of autumn also provide a poignant example of
the Japanese aesthetic. The muggy summer is not for everyone; just remember
there's roughly 5500 persons per sq km (over 14,000 per sq mi)! It might
also be wise to avoid an even more crowded Tokyo during the Golden Week
national holiday, from 29 April to 5 May.