June 21, 2024

If you’re here in Tokyo at this moment, you’re in luck. This May 18-19 weekend is one of the best times to be in Tokyo, as there will be three traditional Japanese festivals happening in three different parts of the city.

Over at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s top attractions, you’ll find the sensational Sanja Matsuri. This annual celebration is one of the city’s most captivating events, filled with ornate portable shrines, energetic chants and long parades.

There’s another procession over in Shibuya, near the iconic crossing. However, this festival is all about promoting the culture and cuisine of Kagoshima, a tranquil seaside city on the Japanese island of Kyushu. For something more serene, check out the performing arts festival in Kagurazaka. The Shinjuku neighbourhood’s shrines and streets will be staging a series of traditional Japanese song and dance performances.

Sanja Matsuri Mikoshi
Photo: Pierre Jean Durieu/Dreamstime

When: May 17-19 2024
Where: Sensoji Temple, Asakusa

First held back in 1312, the event celebrates the three men who founded Asakusa’s Sensoji Temple, and last year, it drew in over a million visitors. The highlight of the festival comes on Sunday May 19, when three enormous mikoshi (portable shrines) are shuttled through the streets of Asakusa. Local residents usually take turns – and often fight each other for the chance – to carry them. Be sure to check the real-time route map to secure a good vantage point to see the mikoshi parade, which kicks off at 8am and continues on throughout the day. 

Saturday May 18 will feature the Chonai Mikoshi Rengo Togyo, where 100 or so mikoshi from 44 districts in the area are brought together to be purified at Asakusa Shrine, followed by a procession of priests, musicians and more. The gathering will take place behind Sensoji Temple’s main hall from noon. 

While Saturday’s and Sunday’s events bring the most visitors, the main procession on Friday May 17 at 1pm may offer a better opportunity to photograph the mikoshi passing through the famous Kaminarimon gate, as there will most likely be smaller crowds.

Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Matsuri
Photo: Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Matsuri

When: May 18-19 2024
Where: Around Shibuya Crossing

Kagoshima’s biggest festival, named after a famous folk song from the seaside city in Kyushu, takes over Shibuya with parades, songs and dance performances on May 18 and 19. The procession takes place between 12noon and 5pm on Sunday, moving along Dogenzaka-dori and Bunkamura-dori streets. Expect to see dancers in colourful yukata and happi (festival jackets) accompanied by traditional drummers.

During the festival, you can sample a selection of Kyushu delicacies at the Uniqlo Dogenzaka store. If the festivities inspire you to take a trip to Kagoshima, make sure to visit the city’s tourist information booth right there and then.

Kagurazaka Street Stage O-edo Tour
Photo: Tokyo Arts CouncilKagurazaka Street Stage O-edo Tour

When: May 18-19 2024
Where: Zenkokuji Temple and Akagi Shrine, Kagurazaka

The usually laidback and refined streets of Kagurazaka are coming alive with music and revelry during this two-day celebration of Japanese traditional arts. The event revolves around the stages at Zenkokuji Temple and Akagi Shrine, but you’ll find entertainment spread out all over the area. You’ll see performances like rakugo, kodan and biwa storytelling, traditional music using Japanese drums and flutes, Noh theatre performances, and more.

Expect to see shinnai nagashi performers (usually comprise two singers and a shamisen player; Saturday 4.30pm and 7pm, Sunday 1pm and 3pm) strolling the neighbourhood as well as artists performing Japanese traditional ballads known as Edo hauta (Saturday 5.30pm, Sunday 12noon and 2pm). There will also be an area dedicated to family-friendly activities and entertainment like traditional Japanese spinning tops and kendama experiences for kids.

For more things to do in Tokyo this weekend, check our list here.

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