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
With origins in Chinese lore, Tanabata is a celebration—usually held in July or August—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.
2. Summer Comiket
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 three days of geekery. Admission is entirely free, but be prepared to pay 800 yen 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 and plan ahead 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.
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.
- Aug. 1-4: Tsukiji Honganji Bon Odori at Tsukiji Honganji Temple (access: Tsukiji Station)
- Aug. 4-5: Bon Odori at Ikegami Honmonji Temple’s Mitama Matsuri (access: Ikegami Station)
- Aug. 10-12: Bon Odori at Kanda Myojin (access: Akihabara or Ochanomizu Station)
- August 24-25: Hibiya Park Marunouchi Ondo Bon Odori Festival (access: Hibiya Station)
- August 25-26: Roppongi Hills Bon Odori (access: Roppongi Station); pre-event August 24
Last year, 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. As of this update, though, there’s 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 25 and 26. 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 18-19) is another Awa Odori event with a much smaller crowd.
4. Fukagawa Hachiman Festival
While Tomioka Hachimangu has an annual festival, its large-scale Fukagawa Hachiman festival is held only once every three years, so be sure not to miss it! Going all the way back to 1642, it is considered one of the three great festivals of Edo (the former name of Tokyo).
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards
Prepare to get wet; 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 this festival – details are TBA as of this writing – but the 12th is when the action is.
5. Asakusa Samba Carnival (Aug. 25)
It may not be traditionally Japanese, but the Asakusa Samba Carnival has become one of Tokyo’s most-awaited summer festivals. Now on its 37th year, this colorful festival has recently managed to draw around 500,000 visitors a year.
This year will see 18 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 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.
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. Lastly, some events that we included in last month’s roundup—Edo Neko Chaya and Eco Edo—will still go on until the end of August, so swing by if you’re in town.
Photograph the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, wander around the curious and quirky love hotel hill, visit Yoyogi park and Meiji shrine...