Festival season will be in full swing in August as yukata-clad revelers and spectators will, undaunted by the heat, come together to have a good time. There are way too many events for us to keep track—even small neighborhoods may have mini-festivals of their own—but here are five of our picks for you to check out in August.
1. Asagaya Tanabata Festival (Aug. 3-7)
With origins in Chinese lore, Tanabata—usually held in July or August—is a celebration of the meeting of legendary star-crossed lovers, the cowherd and the weaver girl. In Japan, it is common to celebrate it on July 7th, but Asagaya saves its festivities for August. This Tanabata festival in Asagaya’s main shopping street was originally conceived in 1954 by local merchants seeking to attract customers to the area, and this year marks its 65th iteration.
A source of pride and joy for residents, the festival features papier-mache decorations, not only of traditional elements of Japanese culture, but also of pop-culture icons. The event also doubles as a competition for the best decoration; with many elaborate, detailed pieces, you can definitely see the competitive spirit.
Asagaya Tanabata Festival
2. Summer Comiket (Aug. 9-12)
Where: West, South, and Aomi Exhibition Halls of Tokyo Big Sight (access: Kokusai-Tenjijo Station, Tokyo Big Sight [formerly Kokusai-tenjijo-seimon] Station)
Time: 10:00 am-5:00 pm (until 4:00 pm on the last day)
Summer Comiket is arguably Tokyo’s biggest and best-known pop-culture event in summer. Fans seeking to buy doujinshi (fan-made comics) or Comiket-exclusive official merchandise, cosplayers, photographers, and spectators all converge in Tokyo Big Sight for a few days of geekery. It’s usually three days long, but this year, it will be held for four days for the first time ever.
In previous years, admission was free, but to prevent overcrowding (what with the East Halls of Tokyo Big Sight being closed in preparation for the 2020 Olympics), Comiket organizers will charge for entry this year. Details are still TBA. Also, be prepared to pay ¥800 if you’re planning to cosplay, as most Japanese cosplay events have strict rules about not arriving or leaving in cosplay as a show of consideration to the public.
And of course, prepare your wallet, plan ahead, and arrive early (i.e. before the event opens) if you’re thinking of buying anything. Comiket being huge, it is not the place for window-shopping; be sure to check your favorite artists’ or series’ websites and/or social media accounts to know where their booths will be located.
More importantly, stay hydrated—note that Comiket is extremely crowded, so as much as you may enjoy what Comiket has to offer, don’t forget that it’s still sweltering (and packed) outside and most likely stuffy (and just as packed) inside.
On the door: ¥500
3. Bon dance festivals (various dates and locations)
According to Japanese Buddhism, Obon (also known as Bon, or the Bon Festival) in August is the time of year when the dead visit the living. Bon dances, or Bon odori, are an offshoot of this belief, as these dances were held to welcome deceased ancestors. While most Japanese these days are not particularly religious, Bon dances live on, and that’s why August is filled with Bon festivals galore. Here are a few of them. They usually start at around sundown and last until around 9:00 pm.
- July 31–August 3: Tsukiji Honganji Bon Odori at Tsukiji Honganji Temple (access: Tsukiji Station)
- August 9–11: Bon Odori at Kanda Myojin’s Noryo Festival (access: Akihabara or Ochanomizu Station)
- August 23–24: Hibiya Park Marunouchi Ondo Bon Odori Festival (access: Hibiya Station)
- Late August, 2019 dates TBA: Roppongi Hills Bon Odori (access: Roppongi Station)
In 2017, Shibuya held its first-ever Bon Odori at Shibuya Crossing. Judging by the incredibly thick crowd, it was quite popular—a lot of foreigners joined in on the fun. While another one was held in 2018, there’s currently no word as to whether there will be a repeat event this year.
Different regions have their own take on the Bon dance, and one such variation is the Awa Odori, which originated in Tokushima Prefecture. Compared to the common version of the Bon dance, the Awa Odori is characterized by frenzied movements, and the steps and music alternate between mellow and energetic. It’s a sight to behold not only because of the moves, but also because of the dancers’ colorful costumes.
The most famous Awa Odori festival in Tokyo is the Koenji Awa Odori Festival, which will be held right outside Koenji Station on August 24 and 25. This event has been known to attract as many as a million visitors, so while it doesn’t start until 5:00 pm, be there early if you want to secure a good spot.
Alternatively, Shimokitazawa Ichibangai’s Awa Odori (access: Shimokitazawa Station; August 17–18) is another Awa Odori event with a much smaller crowd.
4. Fukagawa Hachiman Festival (August 11–15)
While the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival, also known as the Tomioka Hachimangu Festival, is held annually, it goes all out and holds a large-scale version of it every three years. The next big one isn’t until 2020, but as it is, it’s already a lively, huge event, so check it out anyway!
Going all the way back to 1642, this event considered one of the three great festivals of Edo (the former name of Tokyo). Prepare to get wet here; this festival isn’t nicknamed the water-splashing festival for nothing! Its highlights are a procession of around 120 mikoshi (portable shrines)—including the shrine’s very own Ninomiya Mikoshi, which weighs as much as 2 tons—and the splashing of performers and visitors alike with water. The water is believed to have purifying purposes, but whether or not you believe that, the festival is a fun way to cool off and beat the summer heat.
There are also smaller processions, activities, and performances in the days leading to the main ceremony on the 15th. Details are still TBA as of this writing, but typically, while the main ceremony is always on the 15th, the water-splashing action takes place on the weekend—which, this year, will be on Sunday, August 11.
5. Asakusa Samba Carnival (Aug. 31)
It may not be traditionally Japanese, but the Asakusa Samba Carnival has become one of Tokyo’s most-awaited summer festivals. Now on its 38th year, this colorful festival has managed to draw around 500,000 visitors annually for the past few years.
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2019 will see 16 teams battling it out for the title of best team. The parade starts at Umemichi Street, near the Matsuya department store, and ends at Kaminarimon Street, which is practically Asakusa’s main street for tourists. Just like with the immensely crowded Koenji Awa Odori, arrive early to stake out a good location. Also, note that drones and selfie sticks are strictly not allowed at the festival.
2020 Asakusa Samba Carnival
And if these still aren’t enough for you, you might want to check out a fireworks festival or two. If you’re into geeky stuff, Summer Comiket isn’t the only pop culture event taking place in August. For one, there’s the Pikachu parade — our pop culture events guide will give you more information.