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Tokyo’s 10 Best Art and Culture Events in Summer 2014
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Tokyo’s 10 Best Art and Culture Events in Summer 2014

Picture of Jess Dawdy
Updated: 9 February 2017
Tokyo. The very name conjures images of a blend of the cutting edge and the traditional, where the avant-garde fashion in Harujuku is paraded just steps away from the historic Meiji Shrine. There’s always something interesting happening and always more to discover in this frenzied city of over 13 million people. Here are a few events not to miss this summer.

Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia

May 30-June 8

The Short Shorts Film Festival and Asia is the largest Asian international short film festival accredited by the American Academy Awards, with the winner eligible to receive an Academy Awards nomination. The festival features three competitions: International, Asia International and Japan, totaling more than 200 movies chosen from among over 4000 submissions from around the world. This year, in honor of the festival’s 10th anniversary, three films are set in Tokyo, with the goal of inspiring people from across the globe to visit this city. There are also talks with film directors, including a seminar with Ryuhei Kitamura, for aspiring young talents.

Event takes place in various locations around Tokyo.

Sanno Matsuri

Mid-June

Sanno Matsuri is one of Tokyo’s most famous festivals, which takes place every other summer during even-numbered years. The festival, which lasts for an entire week, dates back to the Edo Period when the shogun allowed participants to enter the grounds of Edo Castle. The festival’s most popular attraction is a parade, which begins at Tokyo’s Hie Shrine in the morning, and follows a route through Tokyo. The parade features over 300 people dressed in traditional costumes, along with Japanese drums, gold portable shrines, and people dressed as the famous Japanese goblin Tengu, distinguished by a long nose and red face. Aside from the parade, there are traditional events held at the Hie Shrine, including dance performances, tea ceremonies, and Shinto music.

Hie Shrine, 2-10-5 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 3581 2471

Ueno Natsu Matsuri

Mid-July – mid-August

Ueno Natsu Matsuri, which means ‘summer festival’, is a three-week long event that takes place in Tokyo’s Ueno Park. The festival offers a different event every day, typically kicking off with a parade own Chuo-dori Street, which features local performing arts and folk dancing, with styles ranging from samba to traditional Japanese dances. There is a paper lantern floating ceremony, ice-sculpture displays (in spite of Tokyo’s intense summer heat), and more performances at the lakefront concert hall. Other highlights include a yukata show and an antique market near Shinobazuno-ike Pond.

Ueno Park, 5-20 Uenokoen, Taitō, Tokyo, +81 3 3833 0030

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Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

Late July

Dating back to 1733, the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival is one of Japan’s most spectacular firework shows. Held on the banks of the Sumida River, the festival plays out as a competition between different pyrotechnic teams, with each team trying to create the most impressive display. This means the festival features a spectacular array of over 25,000 different coloured fireworks, set off in a variety of patterns, including bursts shaped like Doremon or kanji characters. Originally part of festivals for the dead, the firework festival was abandoned for a few decades beginning in the 1920s, but the tradition was revived in 1978.

Sumida River, Tokyo, Japan

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
© Shin-改 T/Wikicommons

Antique Jamboree

2 August – 4 August

Tokyo’s Antique Jamboree is the largest antique event in Japan, with up to 500 vendors from across the country presenting Japanese, European, and American antiques. The event is particularly well-known for its selection of toy collectibles, but visitors can also expect to find a variety of crafts, ceramics, and other historical heirlooms. The event also features an antique repair street (shuri-ya yokocho), where antique repairmen are available to provide advice on repairing just about anything, from pottery and jewelry, to toys and furniture. The Antique Jamboree‘s website offers free printable coupons that provide a discount on the admission price.

Tokyo Big Sight East Exhibition Hall 1, 3-21-1 Ariake, Koto-ku, Tokyo, +81, 1 2081 7510

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Asagaya Tanabata Matsuri

6 – 8 August

Started by local merchants in the 1950s, Asagaya Tanabata Matsuri is a 5-day long festival during which the Pearl Center shopping arcade and the surrounding shopping streets are decorated by the Asagaya residents and shop owners. Tanabata is actually a traditional festival celebrated throughout Japan on July 7th, however, a special festival is held is Asagaya in August to coincide with the old Japanese calendar system. The festival is best known for its enormous papier-mâché recreations of popular cartoon characters, each of which is made by a different store in the arcade. Past festivals have featured papier-mâché versions of every character, from Pokeman and Mario, to famous people like US President Barack Obama.

Asagaya Pearl Center, 1-35-18 Asagaya Minami, Suginami-ku,Tokyo, Japan, +81, 03 3312 6181

Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri

Mid-August

Dating back to the 17th century, the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri is Tokyo’s enormous summer water fight festival. Although some form of the festival takes place every year, the full version only occurs once every three years, including the summer of 2014. The festival centers on a parade, which consists of 54 mikoshi teams, dancers, and musicians, totaling more than 30,000 participants. The parade begins at the Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine, also known as Hachiman-sama of Fukagawa, and follows a route across the Sumida River and back again, all whilst the massive crowd cheers and throws water at the participants. In addition to symbolizing purification, the water provides a relief from Tokyo’s legendary hot, humid summer weather. In addition to the main parade, the 5-day festival features smaller celebrations, ceremonies, and traditional events.

Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine, 1-20-3 Tomioka, Tokyo, Japan,+81 3 3642 1315

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Asakusa Samba Carnival

Late August

Started in the 1980s, the Asakusa Samba Carnival has since become one of Tokyo’s most popular summer festivals. Samba dance teams from across Japan gather to participate in a massive parade contest that travels from Sensoji Temple to Tawaramachi Station. Typically thirty or forty teams participate, divided into three leagues based on their ability. That means visitors can expect to see some seasoned professional dancers, along with people who just want to have fun and be part of the parade. Each team has a theme, which is shown through their colorful costumes and elaborate team floats.

Asakusa, Taito-ku, Umamichi-dori Street and Kaminarimon-dori Street, +81 3 3847 0038

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Koenji Awa Odori

Late August

Over 10,000 dancers flood the streets of Koenji each summer for the two-day Koenji Awa Odori. The awa dance (awaodori) dates back to the 16th century, in Tokushima in Shikoku, where according to the legend the local ruler gave his citizens free alcohol to commemorate the completion of the town’s castle, leading to celebration and dancing in the streets. One of Japan’s most exuberant festivals, over 200 dance teams wear traditional costumes and show off unique steps and rhythms, accompanied by Japanese instruments like taiko drums and shamisen lutes. The festival ends with all the teams dancing together, and encouraging the vast crowd of spectators to join in.

Koenji Awa Odori, Koenjiminami 2-, 3-, and 4-chome, and Koenjikita 2- and 3-chome, Suginami-ku, Tokyo, Japan

Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi

Late August

Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi is a two-day festival that takes place around Harajuku and Omotesando, featuring almost 100 teams of dancers and thousands of participants. Yosakoi, a Japanese summer dance that originated in Kochi Prefecture, features colorful costumes, high tempo songs, and small wooden clappers that were originally used by Japanese farmers, called naruko. One of the largest festivities in Tokyo, the teams come from across Japan to participate, as well as from neighboring Asian countries like Vietnam and Korea. The lively dance parade moves down Omotesando Street, and there is also a market with traditional Japanese food set up in Yoyogi Park.

Around Harajuku, Omotesando and Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 5766 1320