Japan is chock full of festivals, and we don’t just mean traditional ones with fireworks and Bon dances. If you like pop culture (be it anime, manga, games, cosplay, J-pop, or even Western fandoms), have we got good news for you! Tokyo is heaven for pop culture enthusiasts. Here are the top annual events for all types of obsessions.
Tokyo Comic Con
San Diego Comic-Con is regarded as the biggest pop culture convention in the world. While not on the scale of its American counterpart, Tokyo’s own Comic Con is by no means small. It regularly invites world-renowned stars to its panels and signings. Since its inception in 2016, it has seen celebrities such as Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Elijah Wood, and Millie Bobby Brown attend.
Don’t forget, there’s no country that does cosplaying quite like Japan and Comic Con is the perfect opportunity to see it.
|Advance sales: ¥4,400|
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Jump magazines (Weekly Shonen Jump, Jump SQ, Young Jump, Ultra Jump) are beloved in Japan. They’ve introduced some of the best and most well-known manga in the last half-century. If you love One Piece, Dragon Ball, Naruto, Slam Dunk, or Bleach, you have them to thank.
This yearly two-day expo will feature manga, anime, films, games, and merchandise related to these titles, and many more. Jump Festa even has its own mascot designed by Dragon Ball’s creator, Akira Toriyama.
Tokyo Game Show
Along with E3, Tokyo Game Show is one of the most anticipated gaming expos in the world. Japan dominates the industry with Sega, Nintendo, Square Enix, Sony, etc. and highly respected creators such as Hideo Kojima and Shigeru Miyamoto. Every year, gamers watch as the latest release dates and games are announced.
It lasts over four days: the first two days are for business and press and the last days are open to the public, when cosplayers make their mark. Once you finally get into the expo, you can traverse booth upon booth of merchandise and even get a chance to play. Unsure of what to expect? Take a look at our rundown of Tokyo Game Show.
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Creativity bursts from the seams at Design Festa. Originally an event for students to show off their talent, it has now grown into one of the biggest art events in Asia. Artists sell their art and some even paint ginormous murals live. There is even space for visitors to get in the spirit and create something.
|Advance sales: ¥800||At the door: ¥1,000|
On top of that, there are live dance and music performances, as well as fashion shows to enjoy. Plus, food. Don’t forget about the food. Luckily for us, it happens twice a year — in spring and in fall.
|Advance sales: ¥800||At the door: ¥1,000|
This is the most-anticipated event of the year for figure collectors. A biannual event, this is the second to be held this year, the first being held in winter (February, to be precise). With amateur and professional makers debuting their creations here, as well as cosplayers ready to pose for photo ops, this event should be a treat not only for figure collectors, but also for photographers. While admission itself is not too pricey, many figure collectors find their wallets bleeding after the event, as they note which figures to pre-order.
|Advance sales: ¥3,000|
Tokyo Idol Festival
Although the term “idol” is a blanket term for Japanese celebrities who are good-looking and wholesome (or at least have a well-manufactured public image), it’s often associated with cutesy female Japanese pop singers, often in groups — think AKB48.
With over 200 idol groups and up to 80,000 attendees, the Tokyo Idol Festival, which is over a decade old, is ever-growing.
The lineup is always star studded, including big names in the idol scene, such as AKB48, HKT48, and SKE48. Some performers may not (yet?) be popular outside of Japan — and not even mainstream popular in Japan, either — but that doesn’t mean that their fans’ devotion is to be underestimated. You’ll see them waving glow sticks, enthusiastically responding to call-and-response songs, and dancing in support of their favorite idols.
W Hero Festival
If you’re a fan of tokusatsu shows — Japanese live-action dramas that heavily rely on special effects — such as Super Sentai and Kamen Rider, this is the event for you. (Fun fact: the Power Rangers franchise was based on various Super Sentai series.) You might feel a bit out of place, as the Japanese tokusatsu fan base is predominantly comprised of kids, but people of all ages are welcome. The event features stage shows four or five times a day (the number of shows varies per day), although a ticket is only good for one show.
Other than the main show, there will also be an exhibit, a kiddie play land, a game corner, photo ops, a themed food shop, and merchandise. It may not be a very large event, but it’s got enough to keep tokusatsu fans happy.
Summer and Winter Comiket
Comiket is the holy grail of events for fans of Japanese popular media. It’s centered around doujinshi (fan-made comics) — although in recent years, companies have also started selling Comiket-exclusive merchandise. Cosplay is another highlight; it draws in throngs of photographers and spectators.
Comiket is a twice-a-year event, happening in both summer and winter. While it used to be free admission, in recent years they have started charging around ¥2,000 for entry. Whether you’re attending to buy doujinshi and other merchandise, to cosplay, to take photos, or a bit of everything, know that the event will still be very crowded.
It might even be worse in summer, when the crowds are huge and the weather is hot and humid. (This is why this writer recommends attending in the winter!).
And if you want to buy something, plan ahead — this event is too large for window-shopping and impulse-buying. Plus, remember to arrive early!
Note: Cosplayers need to pay to use the dressing room. Arriving at or leaving the venue in cosplay is strictly forbidden.
Can Halloween be considered a pop culture phenomenon in Japan? A trip to Shibuya on October 31 will answer that for you. This is by no means a traditional holiday for young Tokyoites — it’s an excuse to go wild and dress up as your favorite pop culture icon. For some, that’s the Tenga vacuum cup (kids, don’t google it), Donald Trump, or the latest blockbuster character.
You’ll find many other hilarious costumes on the street and in the bars, and while there are many impromptu parties, Tokyo has been trying to toughen up on public drinking in recent years (boo).
This article was originally published in July 2019. It has been updated in August 2022 by Alexandra Ziminski.
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