When it comes to summer in Japan, then matsuri (festival) is an essential tradition. Here are five recommended festivals in Tokyo that are fun to watch and where you can eat a lot of delicious food.
1. Iriya Asagao Matsuri
Iriya Asagao Matsuri is Japan’s biggest morning glory festival that will make you feel that early summer is coming. It's centered around Iriya Kishimojin (Shingenji Temple) and the roads during this festival are filled with more than 100 shops of morning glory traders and about 100 stalls.
It began in the latter part of the Edo period (1603 – 1868) and reached its full scale in the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), and it seems to have undergone quite a successful transformation through the years. This festival was temporarily suspended, but it was revived in 1948 thanks to the local people willing to volunteer, and continues to be held today. It is a popular festival that is visited by as many as 400,000 guests each year. The festival kicks off at 5:00 am when the morning glories begin to bloom and lasts until 11:00 pm, with around 7:00 am being the most crowded time period. The flowers wither up before noon, so you have to come early if you want to see the morning glories. If that is difficult for you, you can still come anytime after dusk to revel at the festivities, though you won’t be able to see the flowers in bloom. You have to witness this downtown summer festival where you can still feel the Edo atmosphere in the air!
In 2016, the Iriya Asagao Matsuri will be held on July 6 (Wed.) to July 8 (Fri.), from 5:00 am to 11:00 pm.
2. Hozuki Ichi Fair
Sensoji Temple is Tokyo's oldest temple, and it was built in 628. It is said that the Hozuki Ichi Fair began as a festival in order to receive blessings (charity) equivalent to Shimanrokusennichi, a day where one's prayer is 46,000 times stronger than usual, at Sensoji Temple during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). It is still a festival considered a place for relaxation and refreshment for people, as it has always been, but it has also become a summer tradition which is visited by locals and people from faraway places today.
The hozuki is a ground cherry, and usually has a red fruit at the center which can be used for medicine and food, but the hozuki that can be purchased at the Hozuki Ichi are only for decorative purposes, so even though they may look delicious, do not eat them! There are many stalls at this festival, so you will get to savor a lot of gourmet food, too. Now if you want to buy hozuki, you need to come early!
In 2016, Hozuki Ichi will be held on July 9 (Sat.) to July 10 (Sun.), from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm.
3. Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri
The Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri, which began in 2002, is a hugely popular summer festival that is attended by more than a million people annually. “Eisa” is a traditional performing art from Okinawa wherein the spirits of ancestors are sent off on the nights during “kyubon" (a religious holiday held for four days from August 13 through 16 each year) and the people dance to pray for the wellbeing and safety of their families and for prosperity. With Shinjuku serving as the main stage, numerous teams perform the Eisa in Kabukicho, at the station's west exit, and other locations east and west of Shinjuku Station. The best part of this festival is the scene of men and women dancers in flashy costumes forming columns to show off their dynamic dancing skills to the beat of taiko drums on the background. It's a summer festival where you can feel the Okinawa vibe right in the middle of Shinjuku. It is divided into the daytime and nighttime festivals. In the daytime, the dancing is done on the streets, but at night, try to settle down and appreciate the Eisa at the designated meeting places that are scattered in Shinjuku. There are no stalls or shops at this festival, but restaurants are nearby. Now this festival is conveniently held at the heart of Tokyo, so you must drop by and witness all the dancing!
In 2016, the Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri will be held on July 30 (Sat.), from 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
4. Tokyo Koenji Awa Odori
Tokyo Koenji Awa Odori is a festival that first began in 1957 as way to revitalize the town and boost its economic development. This festival, which will give you an up-close view to “Awa Odori,” Tokushima's traditional dance that boasts of a 400-year history, is a popular event that attracts a million guests. Eight performance venues are designated as stages, including at the surrounding shopping districts to the north and south of JR Koenji Station and Tokyo Metro Shin-Koenji Station. Groups from Tokushima and all over Japan join in the festival, with about 10,000 dancers going around the streets while shouting “yattosa” and playing musical instruments, thereby firing up the streets and the crowds! You can watch the festivities from anywhere, but usually people stand to watch.
There are stalls and shops selling various goods at this festival, filling you with the atmosphere of a lively festival. Please note, though, that there are only a few portable toilets set up at this event, so be careful about drinking too much. This festival could also get extremely crowded, so enjoy the traditional dances while observing the rules, such as do not take a place that will inconvenience or cause trouble to others, and do not litter!
In 2016, the Tokyo Koenji Awa Odori will be held on August 27 (Sat.) to August 28 (Sun.), from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
5. Azabu-Juban Noryo Matsuri
Azabu-Juban Noryo Matsuri is said to the most famous summer festival in all of Tokyo. It is a major festival that is held in the shopping arcade in Azabu-Juban, a sacred ground for fans of the animated series Sailor Moon. Every year it gets extremely packed at the peak of the event. Be that as it may, however, it remains a festival that you ought to witness. There are about 300 stalls lined up on the street. This is a town that is full of international character, so this festival is characterized by the huge number of food vendors whose stalls go beyond the designated area of stalls. There are stalls offering food items from various countries and stalls exclusive to the shops in the shopping arcade, as well as an area where vendors sell such items as Japan’s local specialty grilled salted char and Hida beef croquettes, and local sake and various beers. There is also a stage, a “yose" (an entertainment hall where traditional Japanese performing arts such as rakugo are held), and other festival-like events. If you want to experience a real summer festival and eat tasty dishes while walking around, then this festival is perfect for you!
However, if you want to avoid the crowd, then it would be best to come before dusk on Sunday. Now there is also a festival held at the nearby Roppongi Hills on the same day, so go see that festival, too! For 2016, the Azabu-Juban Noryo Matsuri will be held on August 27 (Sat.) to August 28 (Sun.), from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
While Tokyo may be dotted with skyscrapers, it is still home to many festivals that will let you feel the summer season, from the traditional festivals from long ago up to the festivals that have become standard in recent years. If you get a chance in your sightseeing trip to Tokyo, you have to check them out! Note, though, that some of the festivals are cancelled when it rains, so if the weather is bad, then it would be best to check their official homepages and other sources first before you come!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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