Festivals are excellent venues to get a good introduction to Japan’s very rich culture. It provides countless opportunities to mingle with the locals and helps you gain perspective on many things about Japan and its people. On top of that, they’re colorful, experiential, educational, energetic, and most of all, super fun.

Like the rest of the country, Tokyo celebrates different festivals all year long. If you happen to be traveling to this city anytime soon, here’s a quick introduction to the best ones the capital has to offer:

January: Kanda Daikoku Matsuri

Hocho-shiki ritual performed at Kanda Daikoku Matsuri.

Hocho-shiki ritual performed at Kanda Daikoku Matsuri. From Twitter

 

Start the new year paying homage to Daikoku, the Japanese deity of fortune, at Kanda Myosin shrine’s Kanda Daikoku Matsuri. Every year in the middle of the winter, locals flock here to offer prayers and to receive good luck by having Daikoku’s lucky mallet shaken over their heads.

Besides the special New Year’s blessings, two other ancient ceremonies are anticipated in this festival. The first is the hocho-shiki ritual where you can witness a culinary master expertly cut up a carp with a knife and chopsticks, without touching the fish. The other one is a purification ceremony where youth coming of age that year pour icy buckets of water over themselves. Surely, you will find these unique practices pretty interesting to watch.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Coincides with “Coming of Age Day” (2nd Monday in January) and the weekend leading to it

Where:
Kanda Myojin Shrine
2-16-2 Sotokanda Chiyoda, Tokyo

http://www.kandamyoujin.or.jp/what/

February: Zojoji Temple Setsubun Matsuri

Beans thrown at the crowd at Zojoji Temple’s Setsubun Matsuri

Beans thrown at the crowd at Zojoji Temple’s Setsubun Matsuri. From Twitter

 

The Bean-Throwing Festival or Setsubun Matsuri is celebrated in the advent of spring to kick out old demons and welcome in good luck. In this festival observed in many temples and shrines across the country, roasted soybeans are literally thrown into the crowd. These beans are then picked up by the people for them to eat after the ceremony. Tradition has it that eating the same number of beans equal to your age will bring good health for the year.

Zojoji Temple is just one of the many temples in Tokyo that observe this spring tradition. You can also catch Setsubun Matsuri at Sensoji Temple (Asakusa), Kongoji Temple (Hino), Honmonji Temple (Ikegami), and Suitengu Shrine (Ningyocho).

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every February 3. Activities start at 11:45 AM.

Where:
Zojoji Temple
4-7-35 Shiba-koen Minato, Tokyo

http://www.zojoji.or.jp/en/

March: Jendaiji Daruma Ichi

Lucky Daruma dolls

Lucky Daruma dolls. From Twitter

 

Daruma dolls aren’t just Japanese talismans; they also make good souvenirs. Shop for these at the Jendaiji Daruma Ichi where approximately 300 stalls, mainly selling daruma dolls, are set-up on the shrine grounds. You can also have monks write Sanskrit inscriptions on them at designated daruma doll eye-opening areas. In these booths, you will get to make a wish as the monk writes “阿” or “the beginning” on the doll’s left eye. When this wish finally comes true in the future, you will then write “吽” on the other eye to symbolize “the end”. So better have your wish ready before going!

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every March 3 & 4 from 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Where:
Jendaiji Temple
5-15-1 Jindaijimotomachi Chofu, Tokyo

http://www.jindaiji.or.jp/event/darumaichi.php (Japanese only)

April: Okunitama Shrine Kurayami Matsuri

Night procession at the Kurayami Matsuri.

Night procession at the Kurayami Matsuri. From Twitter

 

One of the oldest festivals in the region, Kurayami Matsuri is dubbed as the Darkness Festival because it used to be celebrated late into the night. It is hosted by Okinatuma Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Japan and home to Japan’s most important kami (deity).

Currently, most of its activities which include yabusame (horseback archery) demonstration and masked dances are carried out during the day. However, to stay true to its essence, the festival’s highlight – a parade of 8 portable shrines lead by very large taiko drums, is still held at night, on the evening of May 5th.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every April 30 – May 6

Where:
Okunitama Jinja Shrine
3 chome-1 Miyamachi Fuchu-shi, Tokyo

https://www.ookunitamajinja.or.jp/matsuri/5-kurayami.php (Japanese only)

May: Kanda Matsuri

Portable shrine carriers for the Kanda Matsuri parade.

Portable shrine carriers for the Kanda Matsuri parade. From Flickr

 

One of the three greatest festivals in Japan, Kanda Matsuri is a massive celebration where 100 portable shrines weave its way through the streets of Kanda, Nihombashi, Otemachi, and Akihabara districts. This is truly the time of the year when central Tokyo is most lively with the procession’s large entourage of priests, dancers, musicians, and other characters dressed in various traditional costumes leading the excitement.

Meanwhile in local neighborhoods, pocket events are also held simultaneously in honor of their district’s local deity or guardian.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Saturday and Sunday closest to May 15 in odd-numbered years (next schedule: May 2017)
*Alternates with Sanno Matsuri which is held every June in even-numbered years

Where:
Kanda Miyojin Shrine
2-16-2 Sotokanda Chiyoda, Tokyo

http://www.kandamyoujin.or.jp/what/

May: Asakusa Sanja Matsuri

Asakusa Sanja Matsuri parade with Tokyo SkyTree in the background

Asakusa Sanja Matsuri parade with Tokyo SkyTree in the background. From Flickr

 

Another massive festival and certainly one of Tokyo’s most popular is the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa. Same as Kanda Matsuri, it involves parading nearly 100 portable shrines from the district’s 44 neighborhoods and 3 main ones from Sensoji temple.

During the parade, shrine carriers love jolting the shrines because doing so further intensifies the power of the deity summoned in them. This plus packed crowds make Sanja Matsuri one of Tokyo’s more intense parades.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every 3rd Saturday & Sunday of May

Where:
Asakusa Shrine
2-3-1 Asakusa Taito, Tokyo

http://www.asakusajinja.jp/english/

June: Sanno Matsuri

The jinkosai parade of Sanno Matsuri.

The jinkosai parade of Sanno Matsuri. From Twitter

 

Along with Kanda Matsuri and Fukugawa Hachiman Matsuri, Sanno Matsuri completes the triumvirate of Tokyo’s biggest festivals. Hosted by Hie Shrine, home to Tokyo’s guardian deity, this event also commemorates the city being hailed as the nation’s political center during the time of the Tokugawa shoguns. It is highlighted by a jinkosai, a parade of palanquins, floats, portable shrines and people in period costumes winding through the city center districts of Ginza and Marunouchi.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every June 7 – 17 on even numbered years (next schedule: June 2018)
*Alternates with Kanda Matsuri which is held every May in odd-numbered years

Where:
Hie-jinja Shrine
2-10-5 Nagata Chiyoda, Tokyo

http://www.tenkamatsuri.jp (Japanese only)

July: Sensoji Hoozuki Ichi

Sensoji Hoozuki Ichi

Sensoji Hoozuki Ichi. From Wiki Media Commons

 

Hoozuki, otherwise known as the Chinese lantern plant, is a bright red decorative plant with medicinal properties. For two days in July, these plants fill the courtyards of Sensoji temple where about a hundred selling stalls are set-up for the Hoozuki Ichi. The fair is part of the observance of another temple tradition – the Day of 46,000 Blessings, in which prayers offered during this time is believed to be equivalent to praying for 46,000 days!

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every July 9 & 10 from 8:00 AM – 9:00 PM

Where:
Sensoji Temple
2-3-1 Asakusa Taito, Tokyo

http://www.senso-ji.jp (Japanese only)

July: Yasukuni Shrine Mitama Matsuri

Lanterns in honor of the dead at Yasukuni Shrine’s Mitama Matsuri

Lanterns in honor of the dead at Yasukuni Shrine’s Mitama Matsuri. From Flickr

If there’s a word to perfectly describe the 30,000 lanterns lining up the main road to Yasukuni Shrine during Mitama Matsuri, it’s otherworldly. These lanterns were put up in honor of the dead, in particular, the spirits of soldiers who defended Japan in past wars.

Mitama Matsuri or “Soul Festival” is a prelude to the Japanese holiday season of Obon, a time of honoring dead ancestors. Over the course of four days, the temple grounds are filled not just with lanterns, but also with long lines of food stands, games and activity areas, and even a haunted house. The festival is at its liveliest at night when the parades make its way through jam-packed crowds to the sound of drums, flutes, and joyous chanting of spectators. 

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

*There won’t be food stands during the Mitama Matsuri 2016.

When:
Every July 13 – 16

Where:
Yasukuni Shrine
3-1-1 Kudankita Chiyoda, Tokyo

http://www.kanko-chiyoda.jp.e.ie.hp.transer.com/tabid/2638/Default.aspx

August: Tomioka Hachimangu Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri

A wet parade of Shinto shrines at Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri.

A wet parade of Shinto shrines at Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri. From Instagram

 

A lot of bumping around and water splashing are the trademarks of the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri. It’s one wet and fun summer event that attracts half a million spectators every year, where 54 teams of shrine carriers compete with each other to give their respective shrines the best shake it could handle. The crowd, on the other hand, splashes them with water symbolic of a purification ritual and for more practical purposes, to refresh them.

All in all, Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri is a perfect day for a water fight, and every three years, this already huge gathering is made even more colossal with the festivities lasting for five days. The next big one or what is called hon-matsuri is scheduled in 2017. We suggest you don’t get left behind!

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every mid-August. For more details, check http://www.tomiokahachimangu.or.jp/htmls/maturih1.html (Japanese only)

Where:
Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine
1-20-3 Tomioka Koto, Tokyo

http://www.tomiokahachimangu.or.jp (Japanese only)

August: Koenji Awa-Odori

Folk dances are the highlights of Koenji Awa-Odori.

Folk dances are the highlights of Koenji Awa-Odori. From Flickr

 

Watch the entire neighborhood of Koenji break into a dance during the two days of Koenji Awa-Odori. With 10,000 dancers and over a million visitors, this is definitely one of Tokyo’s biggest street parties.

Awa-Odori traces its origins from Tokushima on the island of Shikoku. Legend has it that when the daimyo distributed free sake to celebrate the completion of the Tokushima Castle, it also somehow gave birth to a kind of dance. The dance was supposedly spontaneously created by the townspeople in their drunken merriment, and to this day, it has been infecting people with happy energy.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every last weekend in August

Where:
Along the shopping streets north and south of JR Koenji Station
Koenji Suginami, Tokyo

http://koenji-awaodori.com (Japanese)
http://koenji-awaodori.com/english/ (webpage under construction)

August: Asakusa Samba Carnival

The search for the Queen of the Drums at the Asakusa Samba Carnival.

The search for the Queen of the Drums at the Asakusa Samba Carnival. From Flickr

 

Towards the end of summer, the traditional streets of Asakusa are bombarded with a different flavor of music and dance at the Asakusa Samba Carnival. Unbeknownst to many, Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community outside Japan, and it’s only natural that some of these cultural exchanges find its way into mainstream sensibilities, at the very least in Tokyo.

The carnival is a contest for the Queen of the Drums (Rainha de Bateria) title where each candidate is supported by her own samba group entourage. To the tune of distinct Latin beats, dancers from Brazil and their local counterparts sashay the streets oozing with confidence and vitality.

Over the years, this event has slowly amassed a solid following, now attracting a crowd of 500,000 onlookers. And on its 35th year, it has become one of the most notable examples where Japan embraces other cultures.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every last Saturday in August

Where:
Umamichi and Kaminarimon Streets
Asakusa Taito, Tokyo

http://www.asakusa-samba.org (Japanese only)

August: Harajuku Super Yosakoi

Harajuku Super Yosakoi dancers.

Harajuku Super Yosakoi dancers. From Flickr

 

If you haven’t noticed yet, August in Japan involves a lot of dancing, and this time around, the trendy neighborhoods of Harajuku and Omotesando are the ones leading it.

These two youth-centric areas are very suitable hosts for the Super Yosakoi, a dance festival characterized by their creative and modern takes on the traditional Awa-Odori dances. Over two days and held across five stages, about a hundred regional teams mostly sponsored by local colleges and universities compete in this showdown. And trusting the boundless energy of the youth, there will be dancing all day long.

The biggest of the five stages is in Yoyogi Park, where concurrent events such as a Battle of the Udon also take place. The four other stages are located in Harajuku (near JR Station), along Omotesando Avenue, in Meiji-jingu’s Bunkakan parking lot, and the street in front of NHK building near JR Harajuku Omotesando exit.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every mid to late August. For more details, check http://www.super-yosakoi.tokyo/eng/

Where:
Various places in Harajuku and Omotesando area
Shibuya, Tokyo

http://www.super-yosakoi.tokyo/eng/#infor

September: Akasaka Hikawa Matsuri

Wheeled shrines at Akasaka Hikawa Matsuri.

Wheeled shrines at Akasaka Hikawa Matsuri. From Wiki Media Commons

 

Whatever Akasaka Hikawa Matsuri lacks in terms of scale relative to others on this list, it compensates with its community charm. It’s more of a gathering of neighborhood folk paying their respects to the local guardian deities, complete with all the staples expected of a shrine festival – parade of portable shrines, floats, street stalls, activities, and a lot of entertainment. If you’re looking for something more intimate, this is the one for you.

Watch a video clip of this festival here.

When:
Every mid-September. For more details, check http://www.akasakahikawa.or.jp/oshirase/index.html#reidaisai

Where:
Hikawa Shrine
6-10-12 Hikawa Minato, Tokyo

http://www.hikawadashi.or.jp/news/index.html (Japanese only)

October: Jinbocho Book Festival

Book lovers unite at Jinbocho Book Festival.

Book lovers unite at Jinbocho Book Festival. From Flickr

 

Tokyoites haven’t really let go of their love for the printed word despite the prevalence of gadgets. Case in point: Jinbocho, a neighborhood in Chiyoda known for its dense cluster of used book shops, the go-to place for Tokyo’s book lovers. A thriving scene even up to now, Jinbocho is regularly patronized by the locals and come late October, the shops are at their busiest for the annual Jinbocho Book Festival.

The Book Festival is a week long event for book bargain hunters. During this time, bookshelves line the sidewalks while pocket events and entertainment are scattered around the shopping streets near the train station. It certainly is the best time to splurge because aside from popular titles, rare and valuable books are also offered with discounts. And to entice shoppers to buy more, a delivery service is also made available for a hassle-free book looting experience.

Watch a vido clip of this festival here.

When:
Every late October to early November. For more details, check http://jimbou.info (Japanese only)

Where:
Around Jimbocho Station
Chiyoda, Tokyo

http://jimbou.info/news/furuhon_fes_index.html (Japanese only)

November: Asakusa Tori No Ichi

Bamboo rake charms at the Asakusa Tori No Ichi.

Bamboo rake charms at the Asakusa Tori No Ichi. From Flickr

 

The Japanese prepare for the New Year as early as November kicking things off with Tori No Ichi. Set on the “Rooster Days” in November, Tori No Ichi festivals are celebrated to give thanks for the past year and to pray for happiness in the coming one. It is accompanied by an open-air market fair that predominantly sells bamboo rakes known as kumade. These are believed to be charms for prosperity, “raking in wealth” for those who possess it.

Watch a vido clip of this festival here.

When:
Every “Rooster Days” in November. For more details, check http://www.torinoichi.jp/index.htm (Japanese only)

Where:
Juzaisan Chokoku–ji
3 chome-19-6 Senzoku Taito-ku, Tokyo

http://www.torinoichi.jp/english/

December: Asakusa Hagoita Ichi

Hagoita for sale at the Asakusa Hagoita Ichi.

Hagoita for sale at the Asakusa Hagoita Ichi. From Wiki Media Commons

 

Capping off this list is Asakusa Hagoita Ichi, another open-air market fair held at the Sensoji Temple grounds as the year comes to a close. It is a bazaar of more than 50 selling stands offering different merchandise fit for the New Year celebrations. Most popular among them is the hagoita or battledore – an ornamental wooden paddle designed with images of Kabuki characters, anime, or popular celebrities. Traditionally, it is used in playing hanetsuki, a game similar to badminton that paddles a hane back and forth. Because the hane is said to resemble a dragonfly that eats mosquitoes and the hagoita is used to swing at the hane, hagoita has then gained the symbolic meaning of blocking bad luck.

Watch a vido clip of this festival here.

When:
Every December 17 – 19

Where:
Sensoji Temple
2-3-1 Asakusa Taito, Tokyo

http://asakusa-toshinoichi.com/hagoita-ichi (Japanese only)

Thumbnail image is from Flickr