Summer is quite the eventful season in Japan. It’s 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! This summer is shaping up to have a number of events for Tokyo pop culture enthusiasts, and here are top ones.\

1. The Science Behind Pixar (Apr 13–Sep 16)

tokyo pop culture events
Photo by Jeremy Thompson used under CC

Where: Tokyo City View (access: Roppongi Station)
Admission: Advance ¥1,800
Hours: 10 am–10 pm

This hit exhibit, first held at Boston’s Museum of Science in 2015, has made its way to Asia for the first time. With hands-on activities, life-sized models of everyone’s favorite Pixar characters, production stills and other materials from behind the scenes, exclusive merchandise, and more, The Science of Pixar is edutainment for all ages.

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Not only will you get to indulge your inner Pixar fan, but you’ll also get walked through the animation process. If, until now, you don’t know how hard animators work to bring characters to life, you’ll surely walk away form this exhibit having developed a newfound respect for animators.

2. Natsuhabara/Summer Akihabara (Jul 5–Aug 13)

tokyo pop culture events
Akihabara Daisuki Matsuri: Just one of the events comprising Natsuhabara

Where: Around Akihabara (access: Akihabara Station)
Admission: Free (fees required for some activities and attractions)

Natsuhabara” translates to “Summer Akihabara”—but it’s a pun, the “aki” in “Akihabara” means “autumn.” This area-wide event is actually more like a series of events or summer festivals celebrated Akihabara-style. There are collaborations with popular franchises, freebies for purchasing a minimum amount at participating shops, idol performances, an e-sports tournament, and more.

Among Natsuhabara’s events, the closest thing to a typical summer festival is Kanda Myojin’s Noryo (Summer Evening) Matsuri (Aug 9–11), but even that is also otaku oriented in that the Bon Odori will feature anime songs (or “anisong” for short).

Also worth checking out is the Akiba Daisuki Matsuri (“I Love Akihabara Festival”) on Sunday, August 4, from 11 am-7 pm at the Belle Salle event hall. As the name implies, it’s a celebration of all things representative of Akihabara. In previous years, it has featured performances by maids and local idols, techie displays (Akihabara isn’t just for pop culture geeks; it’s also for geeks who like to tinker with gadgets, after all), and cosplayers.

3. Wonder Festival (July 28)

wonder festival
Photo by kazamatsuri used under CC

This is the most-anticipated event 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.

4. Tokyo Idol Festival 2019 (Aug 2–4)

tokyo idol festival
Photo by Tokyo Idol Festival used under CC

Where: Odaiba/Aomi area (Tokyo Teleport, Aomi, or Daiba Station)

  • For buyers in Japan – ¥7,500 per day | ¥17,500 for 3 days
  • For buyers outside Japan – ¥7,920 per day | ¥18,700 for 3 days
  • *Free admission to some areas

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 80,000 attendees last year, the Tokyo Idol Festival, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is ever-growing.

As always, this year’s lineup includes 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 idols.

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This event has various stages and zones around Odaiba and Aomi. Some areas, such as the Festival Stage in Diver City, are free. As for the paid areas, tickets will only be sold online, so if you’re in Japan, you have until 11:59 pm of the previous day to buy single-day tickets (until 11:59 pm of August 1 for three-day tickets), while overseas buyers have until July 28th to buy tickets. Unfortunately, there will be a handling fee for overseas buyers, hence the higher price. Tickets are being sold here—scroll down for the options for buyers outside Japan.

5. Pikachu Outbreak (Aug 6–12)

pikachu parade
Photo by Yoshikazu Takada used under CC

Originally meant to be a one-time event to promote the 2014 Pokemon movie, this parade of dancing Pikachus was such a hit that it has become an annual event. It typically consists of a series of stage shows and parades that take place in various areas around Minato Mirai, such as Landmark Plaza, Mark IS, Queen’s Square, the Red Brick Warehouse, and Yokohama World Porters.

This year’s Pikachu Outbreak promises to have the most number of Pikachus thus far—2,000 of them! This year, not only will you see them in daytime, but they’ll also perform at night. The night parades and shows will feature Pikachus all lit up in LED costumes, performing with stunning projection mapping as the backdrop, and more. What’s more, just like last year, Eevee is the co-star of this year’s Pikachu Outbreak—there will be Eevee Parades as well. And don’t forget to check out the other highlights, such as Pokemon-themed photo spots all over Minato Mirai and event-exclusive merch.

6. Star Wars Identities: The Exhibition (Aug 8, 2019–Jan 13, 2020

Star Wars Identities in Tokyo
Photo by Paul Hudson used under CC

Where: G1-5F Warehouse Terrada (access: Tennozu Isle Station)
Admission: Advance ¥3,200 | Same-day ¥2,000 (general admission–ages 13 and older)

This is another hit exhibition that’s making it’s way to Asia for the first time. As the exhibit name implies, identity is they key theme here, and the question to ponder upon is, “What forces shape you?” Star Wars Identities isn’t just a treasure trove of info and displays related to the massively popular Star Wars franchise. As you walk through the exhibit and check out costumes, materials from the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, props, life-sized figures of popular characters, hands-on displays, and so much more, you’ll be taken on a quest to learn more about yourself and the factors that shape and influence one’s identity.

At the end of the exhibition, you’ll find out what kind of character you’d be in the Star Wars universe. There are 50 million possibilities, so you can be assured that your character will be pretty unique. And if you want a physical memory of the exhibit, there will, of course, be event-exclusive merch.

Note that the exhibit will be closed on the following dates: Monday, September 9 | Monday, October 21 | Monday, November 18 | New Year holidays (January 1–3, 2020).

7. W Hero Matsuri (Aug 9–22)

W Hero Matsuri
Photo by Al Pavangkanan used under CC

Where: Prism Hall, Tokyo Dome City (Korakuen or Suidobashi Station)
Admission: Depends on seating – Adults ¥1,900¥3,200 | Children ¥1,600¥3,200
Free-seating tickets will be sold on-site for  only if they are still available.
Hours: 10 am–5 pm (until 4:30 pm on some days)

If you’re a fan of tokusatsu shows such as the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series (fun fact: the Power Rangers franchise was based on various Super Sentai series), this is the event for you. 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.

8. Summer Comiket (Aug 9–12)

Summer Comiket
Photo by Guilhem Vellut used under CC

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.

With Tokyo Big Sight’s East Halls being closed in preparation for the Olympics, which means less space for this huge event, Comiket will be held for four days this year, for the first time ever. This, however, also means that Comiket will have to prevent overcrowding, so Comiket organizers plan to charge for admission this year. As of now, though, admission is still TBA.

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 be very crowded. It might even be worse in summer, when the crowds are huge and the weather is hot and dry. (This is why this writer recommends attending in the winter!) But hey, it’s something that many fans would like to experience at least once in their lives, so just make sure to keep cool and stay hydrated if you’re attending. And if you want to buy something, plan ahead—as this event is too large for window-shopping and impulse-buying—and arrive early!

Note: Cosplayers need to pay ¥800 to use the dressing room. Arriving at or leaving the venue in cosplay is strictly forbidden.

9. C3 AFA Tokyo 2019 (Aug 24–25)

tokyo pop culture

Where: Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Halls 1-3 (Kaihin-Makuhari Station)
Admission: ¥800 per day (advance) | ¥1,000 (on-site) | Free for kids aged 7 and below
Hours: 10 am–5 pm

Anime Festival Asia (AFA) started out as a large anime convention in Singapore in 2008, but AFA events started to spread to nearby Southeast Asian countries. Now things are coming full circle, as AFA—now called C3 AFA, following a tie-up with another event organizer—hit Japanese shores in 2017. While AFA events in Southeast Asia are large in scale, Japan’s C3 AFA is considerably smaller in scale, even compared to other Japanese events like Comiket. Nonetheless, it features corporate booths from big names in the anime and merchandising industry, stage events, cosplayers, a market for figures, and an e-sports zone.

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