Early spring is usually a bustling, eventful time, what with the many events and festivals dedicated to Japan’s beloved, iconic cherry blossoms, which herald the start of spring. But aside from the many cherry blossom festivals and related activities, here are five other events you might want to check out. (And, speaking of blossoms, don’t forget about the other spring flowers also worth checking out!)
1. Kanamara Matsuri (April 2)
Where: Wakamiya Hachimangu Shrine (access: Kawasaki Daishi Station)
Time: 10:00 am onwards (parade: around 12 pm-2:30 pm)
It’s that time of the year again—time for the infamous, wacky Kanamara Matsuri, better known as the penis festival. While the event has certainly gotten bigger and more crowded over the years, it’s interesting to note that the event seems better-known among foreigners than locals. It’s actually more of a quirky fringe event that garners enough media attention than a festival that’s known to the mainstream public. Still, we won’t judge you if you want to check out the festivities for yourself! The highlight of the event is a procession in which three steel phalli—in honor of a blacksmith who used a steel phallus to kill a demon living in a woman’s naughty bits—are paraded around the neighborhood. The side activities, such as a radish-carving contest (guess the shape you’re supposed to carve them into) are also quite popular. Genital-shaped candy, for one, is a crowd favorite, with long lines forming at booths that sell them. Have fun, but don’t go too wild—wacky as the event may seem, it still does have a religious element to it, after all, and definitely don’t use the fact that it’s a sex-related festival to harass others!
2. Ichiyo Sakura Festival/Oiran Dochu (April 8)
*Note: the event will be held on Apr. 9th in case of rain on the 8th.
Where: Around Asakusa 4-chome and 5-chome’s Yanagi-dori and Komatsubashi-dori (access: 10-minute walk from Asakusa or Iriya Station)
Time: 10:00 am-4:00 pm, main parade usually from noon onward
The Ichiyo Sakura Festival is a tribute to a kind of late-blooming cherry blossom called ichiyo, as well as to Yoshiwara, the famous pleasure quarter of Edo (which is now Tokyo). The star of the festival is the Oiran Dochu parade, the route of which includes the ground on which Yoshiwara once stood 400 years ago. A reenactment of oiran (courtesans) processions, the Oiran Dochu, with neighborhood residents dressed as oiran and their attendants, is a colorful sight to behold. Aside from the parade, the festival will also feature a kabuki performance, traditional dances, stage shows, and a flea market. To get an idea of what the event is like, read fellow cheapo Grigoris’s write-up here. Something to note, though, is that the event is small, and that Asakusa residents might not even be familiar with it. If all else fails, head north of Sensoji and look for Asakusa 4-chome and 5-chome.
3. Yabusame events (April 9-16 and April 15)
If you think regular archery is already challenging enough, wait until you see yabusame (horseback archery); you’ll gain a lot of respect for the marksmanship of yabusame archers. Since there are two upcoming yabusame events that are unrelated but taking place on the same week, we decided to include them under one heading.
Kamakura Festival (April 9-16)
Where: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine (access: Kamakura Station)
Time: Varies per day and activity
A yearly tradition since 1959, the Kamakura Festival is Kamakura’s major spring festival. Activities under this week-long event mostly take place on the grounds of Kamakura’s famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. You won’t want to miss the yabusame performance, which takes place from 1:00 pm on April 16th. Other activities held on other dates include a kyudo (Japanese archery) competition (date and time undisclosed), a traditional dance from 3:00 pm on April 9th, and more.
But if Kamakura’s too far for you, here’s where you can see yabusame without having to take a day trip to Kamakura (sadly, not for free, though):
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Asakusa Yabusame Festival (April 15)
Where: Sumida Park (access: Asakusa Station)
Time: kusajishi – from 11:45 am, yabusame – from 1:00 pm
Admission: Free for kusajishi; free viewing area for yabusame available but in limited capacity (advanced tickets for 3,000 yen available)
This event starts with a kusajishi ceremony, in which archers (on foot, not on horseback) shoot a deer-shaped target made out of grass. After that is the much-awaited yabusame. Due to the thick crowd that this event typically attracts, the organizers highly recommend buying a ticket (3,000 yen, which includes a souvenir) for a seat, and you can do so by filling out and mailing this form (Japanese) or calling 03-5246-1447. Only 550 seats are available. Otherwise, there’s always the free viewing area, but the organizers reserve the right to restrict entry for safety and crowd control, so it’s best to get there early—before 11 am—to be sure.
4. Earth Day Tokyo (April 22-23)
Where: Yoyogi Park Events Square (access: Harajuku or Meiji-jingumae Station)
Time: 10:00 am-7:00 pm
Join the rest of the world in celebrating Earth Day by visiting Yoyogi Park on April 22nd and 23rd. There will be a flea market filled with eco-friendly products, and you can take your pick from a range of healthy, GMO-free food (and if you’re vegan and/or into the organic food movement, this is the event for you). If you want to chill, there’ll be music and performances, and if you want to volunteer for environmental causes, you can network with various NGOs, NPOs, and citizen groups.
5. Japan Hobby Expo (April 27-29)
Where: Tokyo Big Sight, East Halls 4-7
Time: 10:00 am-6:00 pm (until 5:00 pm on the last day)
Admission: 1,200 yen (advanced selling) / 1,500 yen (at the door)
If you’re into anything handmade (scrapbooks, calligraphy, ceramics, embroidery, and more), then this is the event for you. Touted as Japan’s biggest handicrafts event, the Japan Hobby Expo featured 838 booths in 2016 and boasted an attendance of nearly 142,000 visitors. While the name makes it sound like this is an event for any hobby, do note that this event is slanted towards arts and crafts, so most of the booths will be for things like accessories and all things arty.
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