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Dances at the Kagurazaka Matsuri | © tomohisa suna/Flickr
Dances at the Kagurazaka Matsuri | © tomohisa suna/Flickr
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Traditions Only Locals in Tokyo Can Understand

Picture of Alicia Joy
Tokyo Writer
Updated: 27 October 2017
Every city has its own special quirks and unique history, and Tokyo is no exception. These traditions might seem weird to outsiders, but Tokyoites just get it.

Gishi-sai

Gishi-sai is held each year in honor of the famous 47 Ronin. In Tokyo, the tradition is especially meaningful because the remains of the masterless samurai are buried at Sengakuji Temple. Also known as the Loyal Retainers, these brave men avenged their lord’s death before joining him in the afterlife. Now their spirits are honored each December when people pay their respects and watch the procession parade solemnly through the streets.

Reenactment for a Gishi-sai festival in Hyogo | © Corpse Reviver/WikiCommons
Reenactment for a Gishi-sai festival in Hyogo | © Corpse Reviver/WikiCommons

Square Log Rolling

The name of this sport sounds like an oxymoron, but square log rolling was born out of the lumber industry in Kiba of Koto Ward. Historically, Kiba was known for lumber, woodworking, and supplies. Square log rolling came about because workers had to roll enormous logs in order to assemble rafts. Now the area hosts an annual log rolling show called Kiba no Kakunori in early fall.

Log rolling display | © Masayuki (Yuki) Kawagishi/Flickr
Kiba’s annual square log rolling show | © Masayuki (Yuki) Kawagishi/Flickr

Steel Phallus Festival

The Kanamara Matsuri, nicknamed the Penis Festival for fun, is an annual event held at Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Tokyo Prefecture. The festival started nearly 60 years ago and is now one of the region’s most popular events. It celebrates fertility, sexuality, and raises money for HIV research.

Riding a giant phallus at the Kanamara Matsuri | © elmimmo/Flickr
Riding a giant phallus at the Kanamara Matsuri | © elmimmo/Flickr

Fire Walking Festival

Hiwatari Matsuri is held in March on Mount Takao, at the Yakuo-in Temple. It’s actually a religious purification ceremony for followers of Shugendo, a branch of Buddhism with nature and mountain worship influences. Just watching the ceremony is said to bring good luck, but onlookers can be invited to try walking the sacred flames as well.

Preparing the coals for the Fire Walking Festival on Mount Takao | © stan chow/Flickr
Preparing the coals for the Fire Walking Festival on Mount Takao | © stan chow/Flickr

Kagurazaka Festival

This summer festivals turns Tokyo’s oldest geisha district, Kagurazaka, into an Old Edo marketplace complete with music, street vendors and stalls, guides dressed in yukata, and a spectacular Awa Odori dance display to top it all off. The Kagurazaka Matsuri gives us a glimpse of what Tokyo once was.

Kagurazaka storefront | © Kabacchi/Flickr
Kagurazaka storefront | © Kabacchi/Flickr

Hanami

Sakura (cherry blossom) season in Tokyo is more than just admiring the blossoms. With seasonal merchandise, food, and customary blossom-viewing parties, the few weeks the flowers are in bloom is a festival in and of itself. In modern times, the tradition of hanami involves setting up a picnic under the blossoms, and it explains why Tokyo’s public parks are packed each weekend in spring.