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!
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This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
As Tokyo shifts into early summer and rainy season mode, there’s an explosion of events. The next two months offer a chance to see two famous and historical festivals – so get your camera ready. This is the second instalment in our bi-monthly events wrap, keeping you in the know about what’s on and cheap (or free!) in Tokyo.
1. Sanja Matsuri – May 16-18
One of Tokyo’s top three festivals, and by far its rowdiest, the Sanja Matsuri has been going strong since the Edo Period (1603 – 1867, for you history-loving cheapos), or possibly much longer. Around two million spectators descend on Asakusa to watch tattooed men clad in simple fundoshi (a kind of loincloth) hoist heavy portable shrines called mikoshi and parade them through the streets. While mikoshi are a common feature of Japanese shrine festivals, what sets the Sanja Matsuri apart is the jousting that goes on between the groups of mikoshi bearers. Think gladiator games, with a religious twist. There is also dancing, drumming and typical festival food.
When: 16-18 May. Where: Asakusa. More details here.
2. Design Festa Vol. 39 – May 17-18
Held twice a year, this event is huge – one of the biggest in the Asian art world. With 3,000 booths and 10,000 exhibitors, it’s a must for anyone with even a drop of creativity in their veins. A mix of music (from trip-hop to Celtic folk pop and post-rock), fashion, dance, movies, print and 3D art and design, and much more, it’s a gallery of “any and all artists” that draws pilgrims from out of town. Advance tickets are 800 yen – it’s 200 yen more if you pay at the door.
When: 17-18 May. Where: Tokyo Big Sight, Odaiba. More details here.
3. Sanno Matsuri – June 13
Another huge event, the Sanno Matsuri (also known as the Tenka Matsuri) is one of the three biggest festivals in the whole of Japan. The highlight of the 11 days of events and celebrations is the procession on the 13th of June, which only actually takes place every other year, alternating with the Kanda Matsuri. A parade of several hundred people in colorful traditional costumes, carrying mikoshi, make their way through the streets of Tokyo, passing by the Imperial Palace and traversing Ginza. It’s a nine-hour mission, with music, drums and possibly even people on horseback. You can also experience tea ceremony at the shrine as part of the festivities.
When: 13 June. Where: Hie Shrine, near Tameike-Sanno Station, Akasaka.
4. Ajisai Festivals – Mid-June to Early July
While Southern Hemisphere folk might associate hydrangea with Christmas, here these flowers mark the rainy season. You can enjoy them all over the place, but the Bunkyo Ajisai Festival at Hakusan Shrine from the 7th-15th of June is one of the best spots – and it’s totally free. There are 10,000 plants on show. You can also do some awesome ajisai appreciation (gotta love alliteration) at the beautiful Hase Kannon Temple in Kamakura, or your local neighbourhood shrines and temples, too. Rainy season tip: Sip some warm ginger tea to avoid a chill in the soggy weather!
When: Mid-June to early July. Where: Hakusan, Kamakura and more.
5. Fireflies – Late May to Early July
While urbanization has rendered the bright-bummed fireflies less prolific than they were in the past, it’s still possible to catch sight of some hotaru in Tokyo. Symbolic of the end of spring and the start of the rainy season and summer (this country is known for its seasonal markers), fireflies hold a special place in Japanese culture. The Firefly Festival at Hotaru Park in Fussa is a good choice for firefly viewing in the late evenings (around 8pm) of early-mid June (dates will be confirmed closer to the time). The Firefly Nursery in Itabashi is another option, or you could cart yourself off to the classy Chinzansou Hotel (near Edogawabashi Station) for dinner and admire the fireflies in their private garden (note, this is probably not such a cheap option).
When: Late May – Early July (depending on the place). Where: Fussa, Itabashi, Edogawabashi.
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Tokyo Dome City will be converted into a remarkable planetarium event this summer. TenQ is a space museum that opens on July 8th in Tokyo Dome City, complete with a 11-meter “Theater Sora” that gives a view over Planet Earth in 4K.
There is also a projection mapping room so you can experience humanity’s ideas about space. Hajimari no Heya might look like a set from the “Cube” sci-fi movies but it promises to educate and entertain visitors with the ideas we have had about the universe from ancient times to the modern age.
Admission is ¥1,800 for adults. Pricy but it looks worth it.
The fair features around 180 galleries and other organizations putting their wares for collectors and the general to inspect and, hopefully, buy!
This year, G-Tokyo — previously an alternate art fair — has fused with Art Fair Tokyo to present a separate section within the main fair venue. In the past, the fair has used a separate venue or the upstairs floor to showcase younger contemporary galleries’ work. This year and last see just a single floor of the forum being used which, while spacious enough, does mean there isn’t the sense of demarcation between different kinds of art and art galleries as before.
You will need stamina to make it through all the booths!
Look out for the specially customize “art Mercedes-Benz” in the entrance.
A mini exhibition is also being held within the fair as part of its annual Artistic Practice series, this year highlighting Japanese modern painting from the late nineteenth century onwards.
If painting’s not your thing, how about the latest in animation and video art? The Japan Media Arts Festival is screening some of its 2013 award-winners at a special screen just outside the entrance to the fair.
There is also a “Discover Asia” section as well as cafe with cardboard furniture being painted by Aki Kondo.
The most exciting-looking part of the fair may also be its most esoteric. Aoyama Meguro gallery has accumulated a fantastic collection of photography by Mitsutoshi Hanaga that showcase the Japanese experimental art and theatre and dance scene from the 1960′s and 1970′s, as well as social movements and student protests from the era.
Whatever your tastes, there’s something for everyone.
Art Fair Tokyo runs from Friday March 7th to Sunday March 9th, 2014. Admission costs ¥2,000.
This article by Frances Maeda first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
Make the most of the pleasant weather in Tokyo this March and April with Tokyo Cheapo’s guide to the best festivals and flowers. This is the first installment of a new bi-monthly events wrap where Tokyo Cheapo will be giving you the lowdown on what’s on (and cheap) in the coming months.
1. Hanami: Late March to Early April
For some, it’s the reason they come to Japan — to contemplate the transience of life while gazing at the cherry blossoms coloring the landscape pink. For others, it’s an opportunity to get drunk in a poetic setting. And yet for others, it’s a bit of both. Whatever you’re into, cherry blossom season is traditionally celebrated with chilled picnics under the trees, while the petals fall around you. The parks of Ueno and Sumida are popular spots for these hanami parties, as is the Chiyoda area (around the Imperial Palace) — you can even boat around the moat there. Rikugien, known for its “weeping” cherry trees, is worth a visit too.
When: Late March – Early April. You can check the sakura forecast (in Japanese) here.
2. Anime Japan 2014 (March 22nd and 23rd)
As the website says, “Here is everything about anime”. A dream come true for any self-respecting otaku, it’s two full days of all things Japanese animation. You’ll have a chance to see the newest anime, as well as enjoy screenings of classic titles. There will also be exhibitions, talks, music, all sorts of other stage events, seminars on the business side of things, and stuff you can buy. And did we mention the cosplay?
When: 22-23 March. Where: Tokyo Big Sight, East Exhibition Hall. Ariake, Koto-ku.
3. Mt Takao Fire-Walking Festival (March 9th)
You know those stories of monks walking barefoot across scorching coals? You can see that first-hand (and maybe try it too) at the Mt Takao Hiwatari Festival. Hotfoot it to Yakuouin Temple on Tokyo’s most popular mountain (less than an hour from Shinjuku) to experience the haunting sounds of conch shells, Buddhist prayers and fire (lots of it). When the flames have subsided, the monks cross the burning embers — said to be part of a path to an ultimately peaceful and enlightened existence.
More details here.
4. Kamakura Festival (April 13th to 20th)
The city of Kamakura (the one with the giant Buddha statue) in Kanagawa Prefecture was the political centre of Japan in the 12th century, and it’s hailed as the birthplace of samurai culture — giving it instant cool cred. Just an hour away from Tokyo, it’s a great spot to visit — especially during the Kamakura Matsuri (Festival). Held at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, there will be music, dance performances (on the first Sunday of the festival), mikoshi (portable shrines) and — the highlight — horseback archery (on the second Sunday). This style of archery dates back to medieval times and is said to have been used as a brain training technique for the samurai.
More details here.
5. Kanamara Penis Festival (April 6th)
What would the fertile season be like without a fertility festival? Except that, contrary to appearances, this festival is not exactly about that. The “Festival of the Steel Phallus” is held at Kanayama Shrine — where prostitutes apparently used to pray for protection from STIs, back in the day. The spot also came to be associated with prayers for prosperity, easy births and happy marriages. The festival is a celebration of all things penile (never thought we’d use that word in an article), with a big pink penis that gets paraded around, penis-shaped snacks and decorations, and even carved veggies. You’ll never look at pumpkin the same way again.
More details here.
Read on Tokyo Cheapo.
Thank God for hipsters. When all else fails and the media is amok with already notorious reports (supported by dubious stats) that Japanese people apparently no longer have sex, you can always at least rely on the fashionista to still find ways to enjoy themselves.
Tweed Run Tokyo took place on October 14th, featuring some 150 tweed-dressed cyclists going for a ride around the city. No, they weren’t out on some stag hunt, nor was this a Sherlock Holmes fanatics’ event. It was actually part of Fashion Week and is a spin-off from the original Tweed Run in London. The British version started in 2009, while the Tokyo “run” happened first in 2012 and with the amount of publicity it generated, surely next year’s edition is a sure thing.
“It’s so Tokyo, I would say,” one of the participants told the media. “We are using this traditional fabric in many modern ways. It’s part of the diversity of fashion.”
“So Tokyo”? Well, I wouldn’t say that. Except for the odd bit of Aoyama backstreet tomfoolery, you’d be hard-pressed to find many regular folk dressing as dapper as this. Still it makes a change from the usual exquisitely, expensively decked-out runners and cyclists that can be glimpsed around the Imperial Palace.
Given that this is the nation that created the culture of cosplay, we shouldn’t be in the least surprised that 150 cyclists jumped at the chance to dress up for a group bike ride.
This year’s event saw the costumed bikers tour leisurely from Gaienmae to Ginza over a couple of hours, and the participants seemed like a reasonable mix of ages, though it was clearly male-dominated.
We wonder whether they could introduce some sort of Japanese flavor to the proceedings. How about cycling around in kimono? Oh, hang on…
Anyone who lives in Nagoya can check out the city’s own version of the Tweed Run — remember, it’s cycling, not jogging — on October 26th (barring another typhoon).
On August 19th, Sega, one of Japan’s biggest gaming companies, and BBC Earth celebrated the grand opening of Orbi Yokohama. Located inside Mark Is Minatomirai, a shopping complex in Yokohama, Orbi presents itself as a natural history museum that has never been seen before.
It combines Sega’s cutting edge technology and BBC Earth’s expertise in capturing nature and wildlife, which altogether gives visitors a wide variety of immersive experience ever possible.
Visitors will explore this walk-through museum in three parts: Exhibition Zone, Theatre 23.4 and After Show.
First, they will go through the Exhibition Zone which is made up of twelve themed habitats on earth such as sky, ocean, jungle, and polar regions. In the area called “40,000″ they will take a virtual flight around the Earth (the Earth’s circumference is about 40,000 kilometers).
In another area, “1,300,000,” they will experience what it’s like to stand in the middle of a herd of 1.3 million gnus.
The “10,994″ area, meanwhile, will take you to the world of the ocean presented on a 12 meters wide, 2.4 meters high screen. Just for the record, the number 10,994 represents the deepest ocean point (10,994 kilometers, natch) ever recorded in history.
As we can see here, each area is named after a number representative of facts about earth and its inhabitants.
Next, visitors will enter Theatre 23.4 (the number here represents the Earth’s axial tilt) and watch BBC Earth’s nature film projected on a huge curved screen that is 40 meters wide and 8 meters high, and on two other screens on the sides.
The current “Ice World” program shows the world of the polar regions, which originated from BBC Earth’s TV series “Frozen Planet.” Combined with Sega’s technology that allows viewers to feel the wind on their face, the vibrations of the Earth and even smell the air of the frozen wilderness, this film is surely one of the highlights of Orbi.
And there’s still more to explore. In the After Show & Service zone, visitors can see the behind-the-scenes of BBC Earth’s nature films, buy Orbi souvenirs or chat in a café.
While at the museum, visitors will be asked to wear a wristband which will be used to interact with some projections in the Exhibition Zone and to track each visitor as they take composite photos with all kinds of “animals.” All photos can be viewed and purchased later in the After Show & Service zone.
Admission fee is 2,600 yen for adults (anyone above high school age) and 1,300 yen for elementary and middle school students. Although it might not be the best attraction for kids who might expect more gaming aspects from Sega (or even a Shonen Jump theme park), Orbi serves a new example of learning experience that combines education and entertainment.
It seems like Tokyo Tower has yet to concede defeat to the Tokyo Skytree, holding tightly to its self-acclaimed title of Best City Landmark. Whereas the newer east Tokyo attraction seems to prefer plastic food samples, Tokyo Tower has put its efforts into bugs and creepy-crawlies. Yes, in celebration of its 55th anniversary, they are now holding an insect exhibition (from July 20th to September 1st), the biggest of its kind in Tokyo, attracting insect lovers of all ages.
More than 16,000 specimens are on display, but there are a couple other highlights as well. The most appealing one perhaps is the “Insect Jungle,” a giant insect cage set up on the site where visitors can go inside and interact with more than 100 live insects.
The exhibition is held at Foot Town, and the admission fee is 1,000 yen for adults (above high school) and 700 yen for kids (4 years and above), though there is no fee for those under 3 years.
Why would anyone ever bother to see insects, let alone pay money to be surrounded by them?
Of course, insects or bugs can be found anywhere, from the public bathroom to even the most luxurious hotel suite. Yet there is something about insects, one of the oldest inhabitants on this planet that attracts people, perhaps in a similar way that we all wonder about the origin of life. No matter how advanced or developed we think we have become over the long course of human history, we still can’t even recreate the life of a fly. This is a statement I once heard which seems to symbolize the mystery of life, all compressed in the form of a tiny bug.
We should also note here that Japan is home to a lot of insect collectors (or freaks?) as well. While the young ones keep them as pets (rhinoceros beetle and stag beetle are the all-time favorite), the adults also seem to appreciate the great wonder of a bug’s life, both in its live and deceased forms.
At the exhibition, visitors can catch their own favorite beetle using a “bug-catching” rod. The beetles in the box are on sale for 600 yen (male) and 300 yen (female) each.
There is also an exhibit panel explaining the difference between gai-chu (pest) and eki-chu (beneficial insects). There is obviously a hierarchy in the bug’s world too, it seems, though we should always keep in mind that it is a system established and maintained by us humans. The bugs are none the wiser and happy just to go about doing their thing!