Perhaps the best time to visit Tokyo is in the spring, from April to early May. At the start of this period (known as hanami) flurries of falling cherry blossom give the city a soft pink hue and by the end the temperatures are pleasant. October and November are also good months to come; this is when you’ll catch the fireburst of autumn leaves in Tokyo’s parks and gardens.
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Avoid the steamy height of summer (late July to early Sept), when the city’s humidity sees its citizens scurrying from one air-conditioned haven to another. From January through to March temperatures can dip to freezing, but the crisp blue winter skies are rarely disturbed by rain or snow showers. Carrying an umbrella in any season is a good idea but particularly so during tsuyu, the rainy season in June and July, and in September, when typhoons occasionally strike the coast.
When planning your visit also check the city’s calendar of festivals and special events for any that may interest you. Note also that many attractions shut for several days around New Year when Tokyo becomes a ghost town, as many people return to their family homes elsewhere in the country.
Major Tokyo festivals
Whenever you visit Tokyo, the chances are there’ll be a festival (matsuri) taking place somewhere in the city. The tourist information centres can provide comprehensive lists of events in and around Tokyo, or check in the English press for what’s on. Below is a review of the city’s biggest festivals ( for more about nationwide celebrations). Note that dates may change, so be sure to double-check before setting out.
January 1: Ganjitsu (or Gantan)
The first shrine visit of the year (hatsu-mōde) draws the crowds to Meiji-jingū, Hie-jinja, Kanda Myōjin and other city shrines. Performances of traditional dance and music take place at Yasukuni-jinja. National holiday.
January 6: Dezomeshiki
At Tokyo Big Sight in Odaiba, firemen in Edo-period costume pull off dazzling stunts atop long bamboo ladders.
Second Monday in January: Momoteshiki
Archery contest and other ancient rituals at Meiji-jingū to celebrate “Coming-of-Age Day”. A good time to spot colourful kimono, here and at other shrines.
Febuary 3 or 4: Setsubun
The last day of winter is celebrated with a bean-scattering ceremony to drive away evil. The liveliest festivities take place at Sensō-ji, Kanda Myōjin, Zōjō-ji and Hie-jinja.
Early April: Hanami
Cherry-blossom-viewing parties get into their stride. The best displays are at Chidorigafuchi Park and nearby Yasukuni-jinja, Aoyoma Cemetery, Ueno-kōen and Sumida-kōen.
Mid-May: Kanda Matsuri
One of Tokyo’s top three festivals, taking place in odd-numbered years at Kanda Myōjin, during which people in Heian-period costume escort eighty gilded mikoshi through the streets.
Third weekend in May: Sanja Matsuri
Tokyo’s most rumbustious annual bash, when over one hundred mikoshi are jostled through the streets of Asakusa, accompanied by lion dancers, geisha and musicians.
Mid-June: Sannō Matsuri
In even-numbered years the last of the big three festivals (after Kanda and Sanja) takes place, focusing on colourful processions of mikoshi through Akasaka.
Early July: Yasukuni Matsuri
The four-night summer festival at Tokyo’s most controversial shrine is well worth attending for its jovial parades, Obon dances and festoons of lanterns.
Late July and August: Hanabi Taikai
The summer skies explode with thousands of fireworks, harking back to traditional “river-opening” ceremonies. The Sumida-gawa display is the most spectacular (view it from riverboats or Asakusa’s Sumida-kōen on the last Sat in July), but those in Edogawa, Tamagawa, Arakawa and Harumi come close.
Mid-August: Fukagawa Matsuri
Every three years Tomioka Hachiman-gū, a shrine in Fukugawa, east across the Sumida-gawa from central Tokyo, hosts the city’s wettest festival, when spectators throw buckets of water over a hundred mikoshi being carried through the streets. The next will take place in 2011.
Fairs selling kumade, bamboo rakes decorated with lucky charms, are held at shrines on “rooster days”, according to the zodiacal calendar. The main fair is at Ōtori-jinja (Iriya Station).
November 15: Shichi-go-san
Children aged 3, 5 and 7 don traditional garb to visit the shrines, particularly Meiji-jingū, Hie-jinja and Yasukuni-jinja.
Late November: Tokyo International Film Festival
(www.tiff-jp.net) One of the world’s top competitive film festivals, with a focus on Japanese and Asian releases. The main venues for the week-long festival are the cinemas in Roppongi Hills and Shibuya’s Bunkamura, though screenings take place at halls and cinemas throughout the city.
December 17–19: Hagoita-ichi
The build-up to New Year begins with a battledore fair outside Asakusa’s Sensō-ji temple.