There’s a festival (matsuri) of some kind on somewhere in Tokyo almost every week – from cherry-blossom-viewing parties to grand parades of traditionally-costumed participants cheered on by thousands of people. From music to food, film, art and sports festivals, there’s all manner of events that celebrate life in The Big Mikan.
January: Grand Sumo Tournament
If you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo at this time, January features one of three Grand Sumo Tournaments held over 15 days at the national sumo stadium. The second and third grand tournaments of the year in Tokyo are held in mid-May and mid-September.
February: Tokyo Marathon
The Tokyo Marathon is Tokyo's large scale city marathon held annually in February. The race starts at the Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku and ends at the Imperial Palace, passing several of Tokyo's main tourist spots along the way. There’s also lots of side events.
March: Sakura Matsuri (Cherry-Blossom Season)
Cherry blossoms represent the beginning of spring for Tokyoites, who gather under the trees to drink sake, eat, and be merry. The season in Tokyo is short, with the first blossoms appearing at the end of March, and reaching full bloom in (very) early April.
May: Sanja Matsuri
One of Tokyo's best-known and most colourful festivals, this annual event in the Asakusa district occurs on the third weekend in May. It celebrates the three founders of Senso-ji Temple, with around a hundred portable shrines (mikoshi) paraded through the streets to bring good fortune.
Kanda, Sanno and Fukugawa Matsuri
Tokyo has three famous Shinto religion festivals. The Kanda Matsuri occurs in mid-May in odd numbered years, alternating with the Sanno Matsuri which is held in June in even numbered years. Fukagawa Matsuri is held annually in August. Celebrations include colourful parades through the city.
June: Great Japan Beer Festival
Hosted by the Japan Craft Beer Association this weekend-long festival offers the chance to sample more than 200 of the best beers on the Japanese market, and a great opportunity to try some beers you may never have heard of and learn from world experts.
July: Sumida River Fireworks Festival
The history of the Sumida River Fireworks Festival dates far back to 1733 and is today one of the largest and most famous fireworks festivals of Tokyo. On top of traditional displays, there’s a contest for new creative fireworks to further spark up the event.
August: Kōenji Awa Odori Dance Festival
Kōenji Awa-Odori is one of Tokyo’s largest summer festivals, and one of the most energetic. Up to 12,000 dancers and over a million visitors attend the two-day event. The time-honoured dance is performed by local dance groups who frolic along the streets accompanied by traditional music.
October: Tokyo International Film Festival
Held over one week in late October, TIFF is the only Japanese film festival accredited by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations and is the largest film festival in Asia. Events include open-air screenings, appearances by actors, and seminars related to the film industry.
December: Emperor's Birthday
Emperor Akihito and his family make twice-yearly-only public appearances in the grounds of the Imperial Palace to celebrate the monarch’s birthday on 23 December, and deliver a New Year’s greeting on 2 January. It’s a national public holiday and the palace gardens will be crowded.