January and February are the coldest, dreariest months in Tokyo after December finally wrests winter from the hands of fall and delivers it in time for the new year. Here are some events to take your mind off the cold and celebrate the Year of the Sheep.
1. Boroichi Market, January edition – Jan 15-16
The Boroichi (Rag Market) happens only twice a year, for the past 400-plus years, but those two times come one after another, in December and January. This is your last chance for 11 months to peruse all the cool old stuff lining the streets of Setagaya, including New Year decorations as well as lots of your standard flea market type stuff, antiques, and Japanese folk crafts.
When: Jan 15-16, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Where: Kamimachi or Setagaya Stations. More info here.
2. Ekoda Night Bazaar – Jan 24
The 112th Ekoda Night Bazaar is going on Saturday, January 24th. It combines a street market with a festival in the area’s shopping street. This one has a Setsubun theme, with old-school top spinning for kids and gifts of beans for throwing when the holiday rolls around on the 3rd of Feb. Punters will be in the running for door prizes ranging from garbage bags to theater tickets.
When: Jan 24, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Where: Ekoda Station, Yuyu Street. More info here.
3. Mamemaki on Setsubun – Feb 3
Setsubun is one of our very favorite Japanese holidays, in which everyone throws beans out the window (this is called mamemaki) while chanting, “Demons out! Good luck in!” Adults put on demon masks and run around scaring kids. It’s jolly good fun.
It’s also a great day to throng with the throngs at temples, many of which have their own bean throwing ceremonies where priests get up on platforms and fling beans into the crowd, along with chocolates, candies, and PRIZES – some of the better ones being things like airline tickets and free nights at a ryokan. Presumably the priests hit a few devils in the crowd while they’re performing this largesse. One of the big temples to hold this event is Zojoji.
When: Feb 3, 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Where: Shibakoen Station, Zojoji (temple). More info here.
4. World Valentine Festival – Feb 14-15
Whether you’re a romantic or you just want to remember that saint who got executed for performing weddings, you might want to check out the Valentine-themed festival at Yoyogi on Love Weekend. A (heart-themed??) flea market will be held, (heart-shaped??) food will be sold, it’s hosted by BMI Music, and love is free.
When: Feb 14-15, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Where: Yoyogi Park Event Plaza. More info here.
5. Chinese New Year celebrations – Feb 19, 21, 22, 28, and Mar 1
It’s not Tokyo, but if you are looking for Chinese New Year festivals, Yokohama is the place to go. Boasting one of the largest Chinatowns in the world with over 500 shops, this is definitely the biggest Chinatown in Japan.
The first event to check out is on February 19, when the Lion Dance takes place. The lion, which looks more like a bright, multicolored fantastical dragon or sea serpent, wiggles and shakes its booty all over the district, stopping in at shops to bring good fortune and followed by a horde of drummers tapping out a funky beat. Firecrackers go off and much excitement ensues.
The next two weekends, on 21-22 and 28 Feb – 1 March , head down to Yamashita Park to see lots of traditional performances like dancing and acrobatics. The event goes from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
On the 28th, you can attend the major Lunar New Year parade that winds all through Chinatown from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dancing, floats, lanterns, and wall-to-wall people; be sure to finish off the day at one of the super tasty restaurants that line the streets. Dim sum (yum cha) for the win! Happy new year!
A famous park, a former black market and a whole heap of museums—get to know Ueno: