Despite having recently suffered one of the worst natural disasters in living memory, Japan is a resilient country. Though there have been a few cancellations, the country’s tradition of diverse and distinctive celebrations remains undiminished and right now Tokyo is preparing to host myriad events, from rock festivals to traditional street parades and more.
Japan wants you to know that it’s open for business, so here’s ten of the best summer events in and around the city…
OK, it’s not in or near Tokyo or even the famous mountain where it was originally held, but Fuji Rock is nonetheless the biggest music event of summer and one worth travelling to. The Naeba ski resort in Niigata is the perfect home for this sprawling three-day event, with its huge, diverse line-up; the nearest Japan gets to a Glastonbury. This year welcomes big draw headliners in the form of Coldplay, Fuji Rock faves The Chemical Brothers and the reformed, Mick Hucknall-fronted Faces. In-between there are more international and domestic acts covering pretty much every genre and generation.
When: 29th – 31st July
If all you want is to simply rock out, Nano-Mugen Festival at the Yokohama Arena is the one for you. Organised by one of the country’s biggest bands, Asian Kung-Fu Generation, this two-day fest brings together AKFG’s international heroes Weezer, the Manic Street Preachers and Ash alongside Japan’s finest purveyors of straight up three-chord guitar action.
When: 16th & 17th July
The urban rival to Fuji Rock, Summer Sonic hits Osaka and Tokyo (actually Chiba) at the height of summer with a weekend of eclectic entertainment. In a year of reformation mania, Suede, PiL and er, The Village People share the bill with likes of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes and Beady Eye. In amongst all this there are Japanese acts aplenty, fresh young talents Tinie Tempah, Friendly Fires and Odd Future and a raft of indie-rock and underground idols. Get up early to catch the cutting edge and stick around for the memories.
If you’re loose limbed and fancy a late one, Sonicmania takes place in the same place on the preceding night. Underworld and Primal Scream headline, the latter performing their indie-dance classic Screamadelica.
When: 13th & 14th August
Art Fair Tokyo
Usually held in spring but postponed after the tsunami, Art Fair Tokyo at the International Forum is a great way to experience the breadth of the city’s vibrant art scene. Contemporary art and photography sit side-by-side with traditional Japanese crafts from galleries across the country and around the world. The enormous size of the fair makes for an excellent day’s browsing and it’s also the best place to bag a unique artwork if you fancy it and have deep enough pockets.
When: 29th – 31st July
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Even if you think you’re not impressed by fireworks, it’s doubtful you won’t be wowed by Japan’s beautifully choreographed displays – and this is the one to witness. Held along the banks of the river in the Asakusa district for hundreds of years, the Sumidagawa Hanabi Takai is possibly the oldest event of its kind and the variety of colours and shapes that light up the sky here is quite astounding.
When: 30th July
Free Traditional Street Festivals
Shimbashi Koichi Festival
Nominally a local community event, the Koichi Matsuri nevertheless draws crowds from all over the city and beyond to Shimbashi Square (Ginza metro line) for a good old-fashioned party, Japanese style. Expect bands, parades traditional taiko drum troupes and dancers and scrumptious street food. This all leads up to Friday’s big draw, a yukata (light summer kimono) beauty contest.
When: 21st & 22nd July
Shinjuku Eisa Festival
A rare chance to experience more obscure, far-flung Japanese culture in the heart of the city, the Eisa Matsuri centres around an ancient Okinawan dance. Twenty-odd colourful troupes take part in this unique parade, joyfully dancing and banging drums through the streets around Shinjuku station. Eisa is beloved of Tokyoites to whom it’s almost as novel as it is to foreigners, so be prepared for crowds.
When: 30th July
Fussa Tanabata Festival
Tanabata is an ancient festival of Chinese origin marking the once-a-year meeting of star-crossed lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi. Celebrated in various forms across the country, the version in Fussa, to the west of the city, is one of Tokyo’s oldest and largest. Here the standard custom of writing wishes and hanging them on trees is accompanied by three-days of outdoor food and fun including dance, traditional music, brass bands, a Princess Orihime contest and even a ninja display. When: 4th – 7th August
Fukagawa Hachiman Festival
Another opportunity to see the kind of wild festivities usually confined to rural Japan in the middle of the metropolis. The Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri, in which a giant golden mikoshi (portable shrine) is paraded through the streets, only comes round every three years, making it a must-see. When you step into the throng outside Monzen-NakachÅ station, just make sure you’re happy to get soaked as the whole crowd will be doused by huge water canons, hoses and buckets as the shrine passes through.
When: 15th August
Tokyo Koenji Awaodori Dance Festival
Linked to the countrywide Buddhist Obon custom, Tokyo Koenji Awadori has its roots on the island of Shikoku, where the original and largest incarnation of the fest still takes place. The Tokyo variation is almost as big though, with 12,000 dancers of all ages in spectacular costumes taking nine routes around JR Koenji Station, accompanied by traditional Japanese instruments and lively chants. Bring a fan, this one will be hot.
An equally energetic alternative usually held on the same weekend is the Samba Carnival in Asakusa. However, following other tsunami-related festival cancellations it hasn’t yet been confirmed for this year.
When: 27th & 28th August
For more on exciting traditional festivities across the country and throughout the year, check out our post on Great Japanese Festivals.