Tokyo Summer Festivals 101: The Basics You Need to Know

From a list of festivities to places to stay.

Summer is matsuri (festival) season in Japan! Get ready to eat some yatai (street food), wear a yukata (summer kimono), catch firework displays, light lanterns, and witness lots and lots of street dancing. Just be sure to book your trip between July and August to experience this awesome tradition. 

 

WHAT TO DO

 

 

Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival

Head on over to the banks of the Sumida River for Japan’s biggest fireworks festival. The fireworks display is so spectacular, it looks like every star in the night sky has gone supernova! Get into the spirit and dress in a yukata like the locals. It gets pretty crowded so make sure to come early to reserve a spot.

 

 

Koenji Awa Odori

This is one of Tokyo’s biggest and most famous dance festivals, featuring a lively traditional Tokushima dance with a 400-year history. With over 10,000 dancers and attracting over a million spectators, this is one street dance party you simply cannot miss.

 

 

Asakusa Toro Nagashi

Participate in one of Tokyo’s romantic summer festivals. Light a lantern, make a wish, and send it down Sumida River. It’s quite a sight to behold.

 

 

Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri

This festival is marked by huge and colorful bamboo wish trees that look like they were made especially for the ’gram. The Shitamachi Tanabata Matsuri, also known as the Star Festival, tells the story of two stars, Vega and Altair—lovers who were separated and could only meet once a year in the Milky Way. The best place to celebrate and participate in this matsuri is Asakusa’s Kappabashi.

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Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri

Here’s one matsuri that seems designed to beat the summer heat. This is one of the three great Shinto festivals, along with Sanno Matsuri and Kanda Matsuri. Groups of participants carry mikoshi (portable shrines) around the neighborhood while the crowds douse them with water to purify the shrines and cool down the participants.

 

 

Mitama Matsuri

Here’s another summer festival that’s guaranteed to light up your IG feed. This festival is held in honor of the dead and is one of Tokyo’s more well-known Obon festivals. Obon is an event held in the summer where locals welcome the spirits of their dead ancestors back home. During Mitama Matsuri, the walk to the main shrine of Yasukuni is lit with 30,000 lanterns! There are also mikoshi parades, nebuta (lantern floats), and concerts. 

 

WHAT TO EAT

 

 

Kakigori

Cool down with flavored shaved ice. Take your pick from strawberry, lemon, ramune soda, melon, and matcha.

 

 

Yakitori

Grilled chicken on a stick is a light and easy snack that’s perfect for matsuri season.

 

 

Ikayaki

Grilled squid on a stick pairs perfectly with ice-cold beer.

 

 

Takoyaki

These flavorful balls made with grilled octopus are a can't-miss Japanese street-food staple.

 

 

Okonomiyaki

Walking through the streets and wading through a festival crowd can work up an appetite. If you’re looking for something more substantial to munch on, okonomiyaki will hit the spot.

 

 

Ringo Ame and Ichigo Ame

Candied apples (ringo ame) and strawberries (ichigo ame) will satisfy any sweet tooth!

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Choco Banana

It’s exactly what it sounds like. For your yatai dessert, have a banana dipped in chocolate or strawberry chocolate.

 

 

WHERE TO STAY

 

 

Book and Bed Tokyo

This is a traveling bibliophile’s dream lodging. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to spend the night in a library, this cozy hostel is for you.

 

 

Henn Na Hotel

It doesn’t get more Japanese than this hotel—you'll find a robot dinosaur at the front desk, ready to help you check in. In lieu of a room key, your face is digitally scanned upon check in so that you can access your room with, well, your face!

 

 

Andon Ryokan

This hostel is a modern option that provides a traditional Japanese inn experience, a wonderful juxtaposition of old and new.

 

 

Apartment Hotel Shinjuku

A good choice when traveling with a friend, this place will make you feel like you’re staying in your very own apartment in Tokyo. It comes with a kitchenette, en-suite bathrooms, and even a common laundry area.

 

 

Claska

Tokyo’s original boutique hotel is big on design, and it's no surprise as it's located in Tokyo’s design district. The rooms have modern Japanese flair with tatami mats and Japanese pebble floor cushions. Plus, there’s a rooftop with a magnificent view of the city, too!

 

This story originally appeared on Cosmo.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Spot.ph editors.

 

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