Cool Summer Festivals around Tokyo
By Andrew Smith on 14 Aug 2017
Summers in Tokyo can be brutal with temperatures around 30 degrees in August, but festivals and events around the city offer so much relaxation and excitement that the weather is the last thing on everyone’s mind. Even as I am sitting here writing with sweat dripping down my forehead, I’m still hyped about the upcoming celebrations of summer all around the city. Japanese people love to brag about how their country is blessed with four distinct seasons, so instead of bemoaning the heat, they pack their summer with some of the hottest parties and spectacles you’ll ever see including fireworks displays called Hanabi and traditional Japanese summer festivals called Natsu Matsuri.
When I was young, I would always look forward to the 4th of July when friends and family would all get together to celebrate Independence Day with great food and fireworks, but Japan really puts us to shame when it comes to lighting up the night sky with spectacular colors and explosive choreography. The pyrotechnics are incredible by themselves, but these lively summer festivals are about more than just sitting around watching the night sky. They are also a great opportunity to experience Japanese culture. Many people wear traditional Japanese clothes, play traditional Japanese festival games, listen to traditional Japanese music, eat tons of food from Japanese food stalls and drink with big groups of friends. Here are some examples of great Japanese summer festivals.
Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival
Probably the most notable Hanabi displays are the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival which takes place on the last Saturday in July. This popular centuries-old matsuri usually draws over 1 million spectators every year. With roots starting back in 1732 this festival has had a lot of time to grow and evolve which is why so many people love the event so much. Like any other Hanabi festival it is completely packed with excited, yukata-wearing fans of all ages, so be prepared to be there for a while before and after the show. Luckily there are plenty of food stalls and drinks to keep you occupied as you make your way through the crowd. The display starts at 7:00 pm and is held at two locations along the Sumida River near Asakusa in Tokyo. When it starts the entire area is filled with thunderous claps of fireworks and applause from all the people watching. As someone who doesn’t care much for crowds, I usually celebrate the event at a friend’s house with drinks and go out for a walk farther down the river where the fireworks are still visible from a distance.
Tamagawa Fireworks Festival
One more Japanese fireworks festival in Tokyo worth mentioning is the Tamagawa Hanabi Festival in Setagaya-Ku which happens toward the end of August from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm. This display draws in huge numbers of locals from around the area as two rival pyrotechnic companies compete with each other from across the river to create the best show. There is nothing like the fire of a little friendly competition to really turn up the heat, and this festival does not disappoint. The Tamagawa Hanabi festival was actually the first fireworks display I visited in Tokyo, so it holds a special place in my mind. That being said, it is extremely crowded, so expect to spend a lot of time getting in and out of there. It’s also a good idea to find a spot and start the party early because space fills up soon. Also, don’t drink too much or you’ll miss the finale waiting in line for the bathroom like I did. The venue is accessible from the Denentoshi Line and the Oimachi Line.
Of course, Japan has many other kinds of events if fireworks don’t exactly spark your interest. There are summer festivals or Natsu-matsuri happening all over the city during the summer for anyone who interested in Japanese culture and tradition. If the heat has got you beat, there is one matsuri that has the solution. It’s called the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri and it is basically a huge water fight with about 30,000 participants. Even the local fire department joins in on the fun and sprays down the hot festival goers with blasts of refreshing water. Spectators are also allowed to toss buckets of water on grateful participants as they pass by carrying portable shrines called mikoshi. Just don’t forget to stay hydrated yourself as this takes place in the middle of the day at the end of August. The matsuri is held around Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine.
Koenji Awa Odori
When I first moved to Tokyo I actually found out about this major Japanese matsuri in the lively town of Koenji by accident as I was walking home. What I thought would be a quick trip to the supermarket turned into a day-long event as I was completely captivated by the beautiful dancing and exciting atmosphere of the Koenji Awa Odori festival. Though the Awa Odori dance has a rich 400-year history, the event in Koenji which started in 1957 is relatively recent. This wholesome festival now draws over 1 million spectators and has about 10,000 participants each year. It is a very uplifting display of traditional Japanese culture through song and dance. Of course, the festival is also filled with delicious local food and snacks from small food stalls. One of my favorite parts about Japanese festivals is trying all the different kinds of food around the area. The festival takes place on August 26th and 27th from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, and it can be easily accessed from Shinjuku using the Sobu Line or Chuo Line.
Andrew is an American writer living in Tokyo, Japan. He often finds himself wandering home from a livehouse after missing the last train. As an outdoors enthusiast, musician, traveler and editor, he stays pretty busy, but he is still always looking for new things to try. The only thing more unorganised than his schedule is his room.