August marks the peak of festival season. It offers the best opportunity to break out that yukata and get a dose of summer festival action.
1. Bon Odori festivalsThroughout August
All over and around Tokyo
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 (usually) filled with Bon festivals galore.
Here are a few to try out:
- August 2–5: Tsukiji Honganji Bon Dance Festival
- August 5–6:Nakano Bon Dance Festival
- August 5–6: Shimokitazawa Bon Dance Festival
- August 18–19:Minato Mirai Bon Dance Festival
- August 25–26: Hibiya Park Bon Odori Festival
2. Awa Odori festivalsAugust 19–20 and August 25–26
Shimokitazawa and Kōenji
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 Kōenji Awa Odori Festival, which will be held right outside Koenji Station.
Alternatively, Shimokitazawa Ichibangai’s Awa Odori is another Awa Odori event with a much smaller crowd.
3. Asakusa Toro NagashiAugust 12
Sumida Park, Asakusa
Asakusa Toro Nagashi is an event related to O-bon in which lanterns are floated out to sea on the Sumida River, lighting the way for spirits of the ancestors to return to the other side (the place where spirits live, not Chiba).
4. Fukagawa Hachiman FestivalAugust 11–15
Tomioka Hachimangū Shrine, Fukagawa
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. That’s this year, 2023.
Going all the way back to 1642, this event is 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.
5. Summer ComiketAugust 12–13
Tokyo Big Sight, Ariake
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. 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.
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 are the Pikachu parades.
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