Every year in Japan there are illumination and light displays at malls and other venues around the country. Many are elaborate. Most are expensive. But some are just out of this world.
The Abeno Tennoji Illuminage in Tennoji Park in Osaka promises to be a popular attraction for the boys — illuminations are stereotypically spots for young couples on dates — because it promises to take you back in time to the Warring States Period, when Osaka was at the fulcrum of Japanese history.
You can see Japanese warrior hero Yukimura Sanada in light, as well as a breathtaking castle entrance and blazing arch of flames. There is even a depiction of a Atakebune warship, ninjas, and a battle scene all rendered in lights. For less martial tastes, there are white cranes too.
Now running until February 1st next year, tickets cost ¥1,000.
Tennoji Park has previously hosted light spectacles but not one themed around history like this. Last year the show featured a rainbow promenade and other seasonal light attractions. Osaka Castle, the actual site of so much important stuff during the Warring States Period, itself has hosted illuminations in the past from the same organizers.
Images: Guide Travel
Japan’s biggest design showcase Tokyo Designers Week (TDW) landed again for the year in the Gaienmae Aoyama area.
We went along to check out the exhibits. Here are our highlights.
Real estate company Chintai are a regular face at TDW. Here they created a “Tokyo Merry-Go-Round” with artist Asami Kiyokawa.
At the Robot Exhibition we liked this “clapping robot”, a kind of large version of the Pachi Pachi Clappy. Maywa Denki also participated in this part of TDW, showing off their latest instrument toy, Mr Knocky.
This was more mysterious. Artist and digital sculptor Noriko Yamaguchi created the “Keitai Girl Suit Chi”, whose entire body is covered in cellphone (keitai) keypads. It was a contemplation on how touch is still important to communication.
Here we entered the Uncanny Valley. The android Asuna was a “receptionist” created by A-Lab.
This booth was very popular, a manga sticker world presented by Toyo Ink and manga-ka Shintaro Kago.
DNP and Kengo Kuma teamed up with technology that allows you to print directly onto a tree, fusing the texture of metal with wood and promising a “new materiality”.
The outdoor schools section featured this “Tanjo no Katachi” by Nihon University, a primitive representation of form itself.
Staying outside, these kids seemed to love this container installation designed by Sebastian Masuda (an art director for Kyary Pamyu Pamyu).
It wasn’t all “new” stuff, though. A special pavilion was devoted to the work of Edo-era ukiyoe print artist Hokusai.
Here the Hokusai prints came into digital life. Using a special interactive app, holding up your phone brought the flat images into colorful life on your mobile screen.
Shiori Yano’s “MOTHERS MOUNTAIN” bottled up motifs of street culture.
Finally, Sato Sugamoto’s “Non-Verbal Communication” shows two “hats of thought” of two people meeting and trying to communicate.
This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
There are so many fantastic free events happening in Tokyo in November and December that it was tough choosing just five for this bimonthly events wrap. But we had to (because the editor said so). After much discount coffee-fueled deliberation, here is our pick of pure cheapo awesomeness to take you through to the new year.
1. Tokyo Chrysanthemum Exhibition: November 1st-23rd
Now in its 100th year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Tourism Chrysanthemum Exhibition is regarded as Japan’s prime event when it comes to kiku, as the delicate flowers are known in Japanese. Chrysanthemums are held in high regard in the country — the bloom is featured on Japan’s Imperial Seal and pops up on Japanese passports and in other places (including the controversial Yasukuni Shrine).
At the show you can expect top-notch blooms, and a dizzying variety of them too. There will be 2,000 displays featuring cut chrysanthemums, bonsai versions, ultra fancy bonsai versions, decoration versions, and more. You can also snag some seedlings and learn how to grow them properly (classy folk would say “cultivate” them).
More info here.
2. Asakusa Tori-no-ichi Fair: November 10th and 22nd
The Tori-no-ichi Fair is a fun traditional festival that is held at shrines and temples countrywide on Rooster (“tori”) days (following the Chinese calendar) every year. The Asakusa version has been going strong since the Edo period, when it was all about celebrating the new year. These days it’s focused on wishing for good luck and prosperity in business.
You have two chances to go this year (some years have three Rooster days in November, but those ones have a bit of an unlucky association with fires), so pick one, get yourself one of the glitzily decorated bamboo rakes, and soak up the experience. You can sample some tasty festival fare too.
Part 1 info here.
Part 2 info here.
3. Golden Ginkgo Trees: Mid-November – Mid-December
Photo by Haris Bahrudin
While some people associate them with rather unpleasant smells (yeah, just wait and see), ginkgo trees (ichou in Japanese) are undeniably beautiful and demand to be walked under in late autumn. Turning gorgeous yellows and gold, gingko leaves line paths in parks and even some of the city’s streets (some strategic planting there), making for incredible photo opportunities.
The Hachioji Ginkgo Festival is one way to enjoy the autumn colors. The Jingugaien Itcho Festival in the outer gardens of Meiji Shrine is another. Of course, you can always just roll down to your local park — these trees can be found virtually anywhere. Look out for grilled ginkgo nuts (ginnan) on the menus of Japanese pubs too — they’re a tasty and potent supposed superfood.
4. Odaiba Rainbow Fireworks: December 6th-27th
Most of Tokyo’s fireworks shows take place in the sweltering heat of summer, but Odaiba insists on being different — and we aren’t complaining. You can wrap up nice and warm and enjoy small-scale displays every Saturday evening in December. The fireworks will be going up between Odaiba and Rainbow Bridge — making for some colorful scenery.
The shows start at 7pm and last for about ten minutes. Around 1,800 shots will be fired in each one. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s sufficient to sate any Japanese fireworks show cravings you might be having.
More info and tips for the best viewing spot here.
5. Winter Comiket: December 28th-30th
Photo by Hikaru Kazushime
Comiket, the short form of “Comic Market”, is a festival of all things comic-related, drawing crowds of close to 600 000. It’s held twice a year in Tokyo — once in summer and again in the cooler season. Tens of thousands of manga artists flog their self-published dojinsha (independent) works at the event, with a huge variety of genres and styles on offer.
Entrance is free unless you want to dress up — cosplaying will set you back ¥800 (and much more on materials). You can expect a fair few wacky outfits in addition to incredibly detailed (as well as incredibly revealing) representations of characters from games, manga and anime.
More info here.
Bonus Event #1: Winter Illuminations
If you’re a fan of shiny pretty things, you’re in luck. On winter evenings, Tokyo lights up with spectacular illumination displays all over the city. Noteworthy spots to suss out include Tokyo Midtown, the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station, Shiodome and Tokyo Dome City. The colorful illumination at Rikugien Gardens is also worth seeing.
Bonus Event #2: Boroichi Market
Need to buy some cheap Christmas presents? You can’t go wrong at this gigantic flea market in Setagaya.
Read on Tokyo Cheapo.
If you passed through Shibuya yesterday evening or night you cannot have failed to notice that it was Halloween. A bustling and manifold place at any time of the year, on October 31st it burst into even more colorful life with a motley bunch of locals (Japanese and foreign) taking to the streets wearing an impressive variety of costumes.
Japan is of course the land of cosplay, so importing Halloween culture makes perfect sense and teenagers in particular seemed to rise to the occasion.
The reliable folk from Kai-You were out and about in the streets of Shibuya snapping this fun gallery of images.
“Princess Jellyfish” exhibition at Shibuya Parco Museum: Male visitors must “cross-dress” in female clothesWritten by: William on October 27, 2014 at 8:47 am | In CULTURE | No Comments
A new exhibition event in Shibuya will turn all male visitors into crossdressers.
All right, let’s qualify that.
The exhibition, held in December and January at Shibuya Parco Museum, is a promo for the upcoming live-action film adaptation of the manga “Princess Jellyfish”.
The original, called “Kuragehime” in Japanese, is all about the goings-on at an apartment building populated only by female otaku, such as a girl obsessed with kimono and another with Chinese history. The tenants of the apartment in the threatened “Amamizukan” building are all girls. No boys are allowed, though the main character Tsukimi Kurashita (her mania is for jellyfish, hence the title) eventually allows a cross-dressing politician’s son into her life and of course, we can probably all guess how things turn out between them.
The exhibition will feature props, costumes and more from the world of the film and manga.
As men are “banned” from the apartment building in the story, likewise the exhibition is ostensibly only open to female visitors. Should men turn up, they will be forced to wear “female items” if they want to enter the exhibition. At the time of writing we aren’t sure exactly what these are, though we doubt a mainstream space like Parco Museum would actually force young guys in Shibuya to wear skirts. If you want to see that kind of thing, head over to Shinjuku or Akihabara for the otoko no ko cross-dressing cosplay subculture trend.
Following an anime series in 2010, the live-action film version of Akiko Higashimura’s comic is set for release on December 27th and stars Rena Nounen (of “Amachan” fame) in the gauche lead role.
Parco Museum (Shibuya Parco Part 1, 3F)
December 19th to January 12th
Roppongi has its fair share of bright lights and other-worldly experiences, though this is certainly something new.
Finnair is sponsoring a stimulated aurora experience event at Tokyo Midtown on November 7th and November 8th.
Finnair Aurora will showcase various Scandinavian tourist destinations for discerning Roppongi visitors but best of all is the “aurora booth” attraction, which will provide a virtual aurora experience for those who can’t make it to the other side of the planet to see the real thing.
There will also be a booth where you can superimpose yourself over the aurora to create a special commemorative image of your “trip”.
For the linguists out there, there will be customized badges which can be printed using a “Finn Generator” that converts your name into Finnish.
And after all that traveling around the Arctic Circle, no doubt you will be parched. Not to worry, aurora-themed drinks and Glühwein will be one hand, as well as other Scandinavian snacks.
Japanese people really love the aurora and sightseeing trips to the various parts of the world where you can see the light spectacle are very popular. Flights depart for Finnish cities offering vistas of the autumn aurora from Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, setting you down in 9.5 hours. (For the unlucky ones without the vacation budget, there are aurora home planetarium devices instead.)
Finnair Aurora is open 13:00-17:00 on November 7th and 11:00-21:00 on November 8th at Tokyo Midtown’s Canopy Square.
This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
Early autumn is a great time to be in Tokyo. Except for the odd typhoon, the weather is just right, and there are heaps of free events to enjoy. Here’s our pick of five particularly awesome ones, bringing you the best of Japanese culture both traditional and contemporary.
1. Nezu Shrine Festival: September 20th-21st
A festival with a long history, held at a Shinto shrine with an even longer one. Nezu Shrine, most famous for its azalea festival in spring, was officially established in 1705, but is said to go back more than 1,900 years. The story goes that it was founded by the legendary priest Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (give him a Google) in Sendagi, and then moved to its current location. The shrine’s Annual Grand Festival was first held somewhere around 1714.
Well-known but not well-publicised, the Grand Festival, or reitaisai, is a chance to see the traditional Shinto dances Urayasu-no-mai and Sanza-no-mai (the latter featuring fearsome masks), as well as taiko drumming and some very old mikoshi (portable shrines) being paraded around. It’s also a good opportunity to try typical Japanese festival food from stalls that will be set up in the shrine precincts. Think takoyaki, yakisoba, squid stuff and various foods on sticks.
The Grand Festival is not to be confused with the newer Shitamachi Matsuri held at the shrine on October 20-21st — also a worthwhile event to check out.
More info here.
2. Tokyo Game Show 2014: September 20th-21st
Tokyo Game Show photo by LonelyBob
Happening on the same weekend as the Nezu Shrine Festival is one of the world’s biggest gaming shows (don’t worry, you’ll have time to do both). First held in 1996, Tokyo Game Show has grown like crazy, attracting close to 300,000 visitors last year. Some people come on tours to Japan just for this event. There are booths by all the major game companies (except Nintendo… yes, really), with chances to try the latest games. You’ll find everything from romance sims to huge titles, indie stuff, smartphone games and merch.
You can expect cosplay, skimpily clad girls (cough, gender issues in gaming, cough cough), and possibly some important industry announcements. Rumors are afloat that something big will be going down about Final Fantasy XV and maybe PS4 too.
1,000 yen and a couple of hours of queuing (seriously, go early!) outside Makuhari Messe will get you in. More info here.
3. Narita Fireworks Festival: October 11th
Most of Japan’s mega fireworks shows happen in summer, but this is an autumn one — and a fairly big one, too. 10,000 shots will be fired into the sky above Chiba’s Narita City, making for a decent display with a variety of shapes and possibly even a couple of cartoon character designs in the mix. Just 10,000 people are expected to attend, making it a much more chilled event than the unbelievably crowded Edogawa and Sumidagawa Fireworks Festivals held earlier in the year (10,000-12,000 shots go off at those shows too).
The venue, Narita Daikata Newtown Sports Square, is a few kilometers from JR Narita Station. There will be buses running both ways, but if you get stressed, it’s a short 5-10 minute taxi ride (just bear in mind that taxis are not all that cheapo-friendly).
More info here.
4. Oeshiki Festival at Ikegami Honmonji Temple: October 11th-13th
A Buddhist festival commemorating the anniversary of the death of Nichiren, a revered Buddhist teacher who lived during the Kamakura period (700-800 years ago). The event is marked across the country, but this version is the most notable as it was at Ikegami Honmonji Temple that Nichiren passed away. He is also said to have founded the temple in 1282 (it underwent reconstruction over the years, though).
The highlight of the festival and an incredibly beautiful experience is watching 3,000 people carry 10,000 lights along a 2km route through the streets. For this rite, called mando, sacred lanterns are decorated with cherry blossoms and hung on 5m poles. Prayers are chanted to drums and flutes in the background.
This is a popular event, and the road from the station to the temple can get crowded – so get there early to secure a good vantage point. The mando has been held on the 12th in previous years, but it’s a good idea to check the temple website ahead of time to confirm.
More info here.
5. Japan Robot Week 2014: October 15th-17th
If you’re in Tokyo, you need to go to this event simply for the stories and social cred at cheapo dinner parties later. The expo is all about service bots — showcasing technology that it’s hoped will revolutionise fields like nursing, life support, disaster response, farming and more, and in so doing help Japan’s “aging society” problem.
Look out for “Excretion Support” robots, as well as something termed “Hand” in the Medical Robots category. Is it a bionic hand? A hand-shaped robot? Let us know, if you find out.
If you get bored, you can always check out the vacuum show that will apparently be happening on the premises too. Did someone say Roomba?
More info here.
Bonus event: Ohara Naked Festival
This event sounds a lot more scandalous than it really is. Partly nude men cart a portable shrine down to the sea and dunk it in the water. It’s good clean fun.
Read on Tokyo Cheapo.
After first appearing in 2011 and proving a massive success in both 2012 and in 2013, the spectacular Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 is back. Exploiting Japan’s love of the decorative and the vibrant colors of kingyo goldfish to the max, the Art Aquarium event is popular with couples on dates and families looking for eye candy for the kids.
It opened for the fourth time at the Nihonbashi venue on July 11th. Last year’s edition achieved more than 300,000 visitors and this year the organizers surely hope to match this, pulling out all the stops with 5,000 goldfish and even new aquaria that use mirrors and lens called Paradoxrium and Reflectrium.
Technically speaking, there are two events: Art Aquarium is open from 11:00 to 19:00 while the Night Aquarium is from 19:00 to 23:30. As we said, the two main targets here are surely families and couples, so from 19:00 the lighting and music change, and visitors are allowed to take around drinks with them. There will also be live music from 19:00 on weekends. In other words, expect things to feel more romantic from the evening.
Themed around Edo and the goldfish motifs that populate art from the period, the aquarium is very much steeped in the tones of Japonism. It’s only a small coincidence that the venue is in Nihonbashi, an area that was instrumental in the Meiji and Taisho eras as Tokyo modernized.
There are many different kinds of aquaria featured in the exhibition, from balls to folding screen shapes, and complete with outlandish names like Elegance Dance, Bonborium, and Byouburium. You can see a slideshow and bilingual descriptions on the Art Aquarium website.
Eco Edo Nihonbashi Art Aquarium 2014 runs until September 23rd at the Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.
This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
Sumida River Fireworks Festival. Pic by Tokyo Times, used under a Creative Commons licence.
If you’re in or near Tokyo this summer, you don’t want to miss these events. The season starts with a bang, as fireworks festivals explode around the city from late-July to the end of August. You’ll find that the Samba Carnival in Asakusa is one of the hottest things in the city (next to the temperatures), closely rivalled by the mega dance event that is Super Yosakoi. Keen on checking out one of the three great Shinto festivals of Tokyo? How about a huge comic event? Scrap your expensive travel plans – Tokyo has all you need for a sizzling summer.
1. Fireworks Festivals: Late July – End of August
Pic by Taro Yamamoto, used under a Creative Commons licence.
While summer might not have a distinctive floral marker (except maybe for the sunflower) like other seasons in Japan do, it does have a whole lot of “fire flowers”, a direct translation of the Japanese word for fireworks, hanabi. Some of the bigger fireworks festivals include those in Kamakura and Tamagawa, as well as the Jingugaien Fireworks Festival, which takes place at the Jingu Stadium, and the Edogawa Hanabi Taikai. The two mega events, however, are the Tokyo Bay Fireworks Festival — an 80-minute celebration of 12,000 fireworks, and the Sumidagawa Fireworks Festival — an intensely crowded event featuring 90 minutes of blasts and roughly a million people.
Other noteworthy shows include ones in Showa Kinen Park, Hachioji, Itabashi and Katsushika City. Don your summer kimono (yukata), grab some cheap beer and enjoy the shows.
2. Fukagawa Festival: August 13th-17th
Pic by Hamachi, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Along with the Kanda Matsuri and Sanno Matsuri, the Fukagawa Festival is one of the three big Shinto festivals of Tokyo. The event is probably most famous for its gigantic water fight-slash-procession, which only happens every third year — the good news is this year is one of those years! The last time that the hon matsuri, or “proper festival” version (with the drenching part) took place was 2012 — originally it was scheduled for 2011, but due to the earthquake, it was postponed. The organisers decided to stick to the original schedule for 2014 though, which means that the next watery affair will only take place in 2017. The idea behind the splashing and spraying is that the water is purifying — but on a practical level, it also cools the participants down.
You can expect a grand parade of 120 portable shrines, or mikoshi, with some huge ones in the mix. There will be taiko drumming, music and more. The festival, believed to have started in 1642, is centered around Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, which was built in 1627.
3. Comiket 2014: August 15th-17th
Pic by jeriaska, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Tokyo’s Comiket, or ”Comic Market” is a celebration of all things comic-related, regularly attracting crowds of over 500,000 people. Tens of thousands of manga artists sell their self-published dojinsha (independent) works, with a huge variety of genres and styles on offer. You can pick up some pretty rare stuff, and some people later flog their finds on internet auction sites.
Entrance to Comiket is free, unless you want to dress up — cosplaying will cost you ¥800. You can expect a fair few wacky outfits in addition to incredibly detailed representations of characters from manga and anime.
This is one event where arriving late is better than getting there early — to avoid lengthy queues, those in the know advise arriving around noon. The next Comiket will take place in winter and is a slightly smaller event than the summer version.
4. 33rd Asakusa Samba Carnival: August 23rd
Pic by Chen Qu, used under a Creative Commons licence.
Gaining immense popularity over the years, the Asakusa Samba Carnival has become one of Tokyo’s major summer festivals. The event sees 18 teams compete for the carnival title, with samba floats, drummers and, of course, lots of dancers with minuscule and or colourful costumes, and enormous feathered head dresses. Prepare to jostle your way through masses of telephoto lenses! The carnival kicks off at 1pm and should be all over by 6pm.
If you’re keen for a taste of what to expect (as well as lots of tasty Brazilian food), check out the Brazilian Day celebrations at Yoyogi Park on July 19-20th.
5. Super Yosakoi 2014: August 23rd-24th
Pic by முதல் அ வரை, used under a Creative Commons licence.
If you’ve ever wanted to see authentic Japanese dance, this is a fantastic event to check out. 6,000 dancers in teams from all over the country compete annually in the Super Yosakoi dance contest, with colourful costumes and impressive moves. The atmosphere in Harajuku and Omotesando is electric, with stage performances as well as mammoth 5-8 hour parades.
The yosakoi dance originated in Kochi Prefecture in 1954 as a modern take on traditional summer dance. One of its defining characteristics is the use of small wooden clappers called naruko, originally used to scare birds away from rice fields. Dancers often use other props too, like drums and banners.
Check out the Cheapo Weekend every Thursday for more budget-friendly events!