It's time to get excited – the spring holiday season is finally here. In Tokyo, Golden Week always offers a bonanza of great things to do, from food festivals and traditional matsuri to the Rainbow Pride parade, outdoor music festivals and unmissable art shows, while there's plenty going on just outside of the city as well.
So forget about that package tour to Hawaii (or bus trip to Atami) and make the most of Golden Week in Tokyo – just be sure to take May 2 and 6 off for the full ten-day holiday experience.
Food and festivals
Kohgen in Nihonbashi
Launched in 2011, this annual event always stages over 100 workshops related to traditional Japanese culture and religion, including a Noh theatre experience and classes for calligraphy and zazen meditation, plus performances ranging from electronic music to sutra recitation.
Kohgen will power up even further for this year, now taking place at Kanda Shrine and all over the Nihonbashi area, in addition to its usual base at Zojoji Temple. The organizers are aiming to reach out especially to Tokyoites who usually don't frequent shrines or temples, rolling out an easily approachable program that will also include talks, hands-on experiences, food events and a haunted house, which will supposedly be scary enough to give even stoic Buddhist monks the chills. Check out program details and ticket info on the official English website.
Nikufes Tokyo 2016 Spring
Now here's a Golden Week food event for every carnivore out there: the nationally popular Nikufes heads back to Odaiba, where restaurants from both Tokyo and further afield gather for 11 days of meaty madness, serving up their juiciest delicacies at reasonable prices. Complementing all the meat-chewing are craft beers, non-meat snacks and decadent desserts – bring family and/or friends and feast to your heart's content.
The ancient Okunitama Shrine out in Fuchu is said to have been founded in the year 111, and the annual Kurayami Matsuri is its most notable event. Translating as 'darkness festival', the festivities go on for a week, with float parades, performances and plenty of family-friendly fun taking place on each day from April 30. The highlight comes on the evening of May 5, when eight mikoshi shrines are carried through the grounds to the beat of huge taiko drums, followed by a spectacular yabusame (horseback archery) demonstration.
Odaiba Hawaii Festival
Odaiba's annual tribute to the Aloha State returns to VenusFort for Golden Week, with the popular hula and Tahitian dance performances complemented by laidback live music, a Hawaiian market, cultural classes and – of course – plenty of delectable grub and drinks from Japan's favorite vacation spot. If your idea of a 'tropical' day in Tokyo involves strolling around a shopping mall with a Kona beer and some garlic shrimp in hand, this party will tick all the boxes.
Local Gourmet Festival
Take a break from riding the roller coasters and indulge in some local specialties representing regions from Hokkaido to Okinawa at Yomiuri Land's yearly Golden Week event, taking place over a period of ten days this year. Dozens of food varieties (including eternal favorites like yakisoba and ramen) and plenty of ji-biiru (local beers) will be on offer, while performers will keep hungry visitors entertained with dances like Awa Odori and Okinawa's eisa. Just remember – no bungee jumping on a full stomach.
Ebisu Premium Glamping 2016
Experience the joys of glamping ('glamorous camping', natch) in front of Ebisu's Garden Place, where luxury outdoor gear brand Circus shows off tents, folding chairs and kitchenware targeting the obscenely moneyed camping crowd. You'll be able to peek into a fully equipped glam tent between noon and 6pm, which is also when a selection of local shops tout their gear on the facility's central plaza. And if you're looking to go all out, book a spot for one of the 'Premium Glamping Dinners' (32,400 yen) on April 23 and 24.
Housing over 100 wisteria trees, Kameido Tenjin Shrine is one of the best places to see these delicate purple flowers in Tokyo. Visit between the end of April until the beginning of May to be awed by the traditional beauty of the shrine, which has been the subject of countless ukiyo-e. If you walk from Kameido Station, you’ll get a chance to see the shitamachi neighborhood too.
Minne Handmade Market
Representing over 170,000 artists, Japan's largest handicraft market deals in everything from bags and clothing to chopsticks and brooches, and now puts on its most massive sales bash yet. Taking over Big Sight for three days in April, the Minne Handmade Market will see over 3,000 booths set up, so finding something you like is pretty much guaranteed. The tickets (1,200 yen, 1,000 yen if bought in advance) are valid for all three days and re-entry is allowed throughout.
Organic Life in Tokyo
Billed as 'the biggest yoga event in Tokyo', Organic Life Tokyo invites a whopping 120 instructors to give yoga classes over the course of this three-day festival. And that's not all – holistic living enthusiasts will lap up the ethical fashion and organic wine and veggies on display. New additions to the lineup include craft beer brewers Far Yeast and veggie shop Oisix. Chat to the producers, stock up on goods and mingle with like-minded yogis.
Get ready for five days of extra-pasty fun at the Manseibashi Maach Ecute complex in Akihabara, where this market dedicated to bread and pastries sees 12 Tokyo area bakeries set up shop for Golden Week.
Participants include venerable Daikanyama pâtisserie Chez Luis and 'pop-ups only' pie purveyors Ogikubo Meat Pie, with several bakeries offering limited-edition treats – consider heading over early for the chance to get your hands on these. Knickknack store Hiroo Arobö will be breaking the bread front with coffee, honey, jam and kitchenware, allowing you to pick up everything required for a fancy weekend breakfast.
Daikanyama Spring Community Festival
Daikanyama's annual spring celebration marks its 10th birthday, and will again see local residents, shops, gig spots, galleries and other businesses join hands and put on markets, art exhibitions, dance performances and much more over three Golden Week days. There'll also be plenty of kid-friendly workshops going on, so consider heading over with the family in tow.
Cinco de Mayo Festival 2016
Held annually in the U.S. to commemorate Mexico's historic victory over France at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, the Cinco de Mayo Festival will be heading to Tokyo again this year – and unusually enough, it's arriving right on schedule.
Moving from Yoyogi Park to Odaiba for 2016, the festival will again feature the familiar mariachi bands, rockabillies, tequila bars and Tex-Mex food stands, complemented by non-Mexican gourmet and music contributions from countries including Peru, Brazil, Chile and Cuba – none of which have the clout to put on festivals of their own, we presume.
Melonpan Festival 2016
Savor a vast variety of sweet, melon-shaped bread at this one-day festival at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, where bakeries team up to show off their 'melon pan' and where you can also taste around 40 different breads from all over the country. The raised funds are for a charity active in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Harajuku Craft Fair
Harajuku's Design Festa Gallery will be filled with quirky crafts over the latter part of Golden Week, when creatives from both near and far show off and sell ceramics, metalcrafts, glassware, lacquerware, leather goods, textiles and more. Head over and pick up a little something to spice up your home with.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride
Tokyo Rainbow Week is back to celebrate LGBT pride with a host of events, including a rip-roaring parade that last year saw thousands of people gather and take to the streets in fancy dress alongside floats. This year's parade is scheduled for May 8, with a variety of booths opened in Yoyogi Park by LGBT-friendly companies and artists on the preceding day. The rest of the week's program is listed on tokyorainbowpride.com. Welcoming folk of all genders and orientations, Rainbow Week is sure to offer something for everyone.
Cambodia Festival 2016
Neighboring Vietnam, Thailand and Laos all have their annual and well-attended Yoyogi Park festivals, but Cambodia is now also making a run for the prize: the kingdom brings back its own celebration for the second year in a row, featuring performances of traditional dance and rather more modern pop, plus plenty of local food, drink and handicrafts. For something completely different, you'll want to check out the TiQNoKo charity show, headed by fab Paris-based performance duo Les Romanesques.
Koinobori at Tokyo Tower
Now an annual sight at Tokyo Tower, the colorful Children's Day carp streamers will be set up in front of the main entrance again from early April. In addition to 333 koinobori, which of course signify the height of our beloved Eiffel Tower replica, the decorations include a 6-meter sanmanobori – this one both a reminder of September's Tokyo Tower Sanma Matsuri and of the ongoing recovery efforts in Tohoku's Sanriku region, a major producer of Pacific saury (sanma).
Kachiya Matsuri commemorates the Heian court bureaucrat Fujiwara no Hidesato's prayer for victory, after which he successfully quelled an uprising spearheaded by samurai rebel Taira no Masakado. The festival dates back to Hidesato's offering of his bow and arrow to the shrine after his victory in battle. During the modern festival, you’ll witness the dedication of a kachiya (victory arrow) and a traditional warrior parade.
Doki Doki Flea Market
There are flea markets, and then there's the eye-popping spectacle that unfolds at Makuhari Messe every Golden Week. The Doki Doki Flea Market is Japan's largest bric-a-brac fair, drawing around 1,500 vendors each day. That's not all, though: the attractions also include a handicraft market, a sizable food hall and a range of live music organized by local radio station BayFM – idol megagroup Nogizaka 46 were the main attraction last year.
Held all across Germany to celebrate the coming of spring, Frühlingsfest is also a familiar feature on Yokohama's Golden Week calendar. There's always plenty of fun stuff to look forward to for kids, with this year's edition featuring a gorgeous, antique-style wooden merry-go-round in which to place the young 'uns.
Adults, meanwhile, can look forward to oom-pah music, eight varieties of fine Teutonic brews and a lengthy list of grub, including Hamburg-style seafood and knipp sausages from Bremen. Note that most of the children's activities are open only between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Odaiba Oktoberfest 2016 Spring
Why wait until autumn? While the original Oktoberfest in Munich doesn't kick off until September, Tokyo's beer lovers can enjoy the party throughout spring and summer too. Akihabara snuck in ahead of the pack again this year, but the first outdoor Oktoberfest will be falling during Golden Week, when revelers can gorge on suds, sausages and sauerkraut by the waterside in Odaiba. Sample over 100 different beers from German and Japanese breweries, all served up in proper glasses – and at prices that'd make a native German balk.
Haisai Festa 2016
Golden Week is one of Japan's peak periods for travelling, but you can save money on airfares by heading to one of the many cultural festivals held in Tokyo and the surrounding area. While the capital's parks host most of these events, Kawasaki's La Cittadella takes a trip to Okinawa every year, with five days of food, music and dance from Japan's southernmost prefecture.
Look out for eisa dancing, stalls selling Okinawan soba, mango kakigori and Orion beer, live music by Okinawan performers and workshops on traditional crafts and instruments. Meanwhile, neighboring Club Citta hosts a full-scale Okinawan music festival – details TBA in the coming days.
Yokohama Parade 2016
Marking the opening of the city's annual Port Festival, this traditional procession offers much more than the name suggests: there are actually two parades taking place, with the smaller-scale kids' parade travelling from Yamashita Park to the Red Brick Warehouse and towards the Bankokubashi crossing, while the spectacular 'super parade' runs from Yamashita Park and the Red Brick Warehouse to Bashamichi and Isezakicho. Look out for elaborately decorated floats, marching bands and crazy costumes, plus plenty of action alongside the route.
Shinobazu Book Street 2016
The many curious bookstores along Shinobazu-dori in the Yanaka-Nezu-Sendagi area again put on a show that includes talks, exhibitions, film screenings, gigs and much more. On May 3, a whopping 67 shops will put out boxes full of old books at 15 locations in the area, inviting you to spend the entire day digging for treasures. Grab a free map at one of the participating shops and start your stroll.
Ecute Donburi Festival
Eat your way through the Ecute malls in Omiya, Shinagawa, Nippori, Tachikawa and Tokyo Station at this donburi or rice bowl festival, going on through May 8 at dozens of restaurants inside the complexes. The more than 50 different bowls on offer range from seafood to yakitori and tempura, with the selection varying widely by station. If your plans for Golden Week are still up in the air, perhaps a citywide donburi tour might be in order?
Salsa Street 2016
First held in 2015, this multinational celebration takes on Yoyogi Park again with food, drinks, music and merriment, plus all the salsa dancing you can possibly endure over a single weekend. Grab a spicy taco and wash it down with a beer or mojito before moving onto the vast selection of rum and tequila. Less alcoholically inclined visitors will appreciate the stalls selling handicrafts and other summery accessories.
Bunkyo Azalea Festival
For 11 months of every year, Nezu Shrine doesn't attract all that much attention from the outside world. Then spring rolls around, and its remarkable crop of azaleas burst into bloom. The shrine precincts are home to some 3,000 azalea plants – roughly 100 varieties in total, including rare breeds such as the black karafune flower – and has to find space for at least as many flower aficionados during the month-long Bunkyo Tsutsuji Matsuri. Expect it to get busiest during Golden Week, when there'll be taiko drumming performances and a range of other activities.
Open the Park
Tokyo Midtown's annual serving of outdoor fun for Golden Week centers on the complex's spacious lawn, where yoga classes vie for space with a highball-focused pop-up bar, a 'Kindle library' and koinobori decorations for Children's Day.
The free yoga sessions will be led by the pioneering Ken Harakuma along with fellow celeb yogi Fuyuko Kurihara, and take place in the mornings (9:30 a.m.-11 a.m.) on April 23, 24, 29 and 30 and May 1, 3-5, 7 and 8, and evenings (7:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.) on April 26 and 27, plus May 10, 11, 17, 18, 24 and 25. The garden boozer, meanwhile, will be open from April 22 to May 29 (5 p.m.-10 p.m. on weekdays, 12 noon-10 p.m. on weekends and holidays).
World Chocolate Dessert Buffet
Need something to drown your sorrows in on a rainy spring weekday? Try chocolate – Ebisu's Westin is putting on this ultra-decadent all-you-can-eat dessert offering consisting exclusively of cacao-based treats. Sample fine European chocolate in solid form and go for cakes, popovers and parfaits – more than 20 kinds of sweets are available for the set price of 3,780 yen, and you have two hours to make the most of the occasion. Just don't blame us for the inevitable tummy ache afterwards.
Plarail Expo 2016
Fans of Tomy’s plastic trains won’t want to miss this yearly bash, which features giant dioramas, fun games, ridable trains for kids, and the chance to shop for limited-edition merchandise that’ll make your friends green with envy. All visitors will also receive a unique toy train car for free.
Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Great views of majestic Mount Fuji and seemingly endless fields of shibazakura ('pink moss') – it's no wonder that this annual spring festival out at Lake Motosu in Yamanashi attracts hordes of Tokyoites over Golden Week. In addition to strolling around the immense flowery growth, you can buy your own shibazakura pot to take home or bite into a wide range of local delicacies. The food stall selection has been further expanded for this year, with festival grub from all over the region available throughout the event period.
Tokyo Tower Highball Garden Rooftop Jingisukan
Offering an alternative to the ubiquitous summer beer gardens, Tokyo Tower will again be serving up whisky highballs until late September. Head to the roof of Tower Foot Town, right next to the Skytree's dowdy predecessor, each evening for a lengthy menu of highballs, a food selection centered on Jingisukan, the Hokkaido-born lamb dish named after the Mongol warlord Genghis Khan, and – yes – beer. Just watch out for foul weather, as the terrace closes in the case of heavy rain.
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