Tokyo has been holding some “1 Year to Go!” events. If you visit Tokyo this summer 2019, here are some neat events/things you can see for a limited time.
Olympic Rings at Nihonbashi Bridge
Olympics rings were installed on Nihonbashi Bridge this Aug. Instant hit among passersby taking selfies in front of it. The on-site staff couldn’t tell me how long these rings will be here. They are also lit up in the evening.
Nihombashi City Dressing for TOKYO 2020
To mark “1 Year to Go!”, the Nihonbashi business district has a few major buildings adorned with Olympics/Paralympics decorations called “Nihombashi City Dressing for TOKYO 2020” from July 23 to Aug. 25, 2019. 日本橋シティドレッシング for TOKYO 2020
Tokyo 2020 Olympic/Paralympic torches now on display at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No. 1 on the 2nd floor until Aug. 25, 2019, 9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. You can hold it and take photos with it. Made of aluminum and very lightweight. The Olympic torch is gold, and the Paralympic torch is pinkish. The building is a short walk from Shinjuku Station’s West Exit (Nishi-guchi). 東京2020聖火リレートーチの展示
Super Unusual 2020 Exhibition
Also in Nihonbashi was this special interactive exhibition called “Super Unusual 2020 Exhibition” (Futsujanai 2020 Exhibition). It had Olympic sports-related interactive activities that anyone could try for fun. This exhibition in Nihonbashi ended on Aug. 4, 2019, but it is being held at Tokyo Midtown Hibiya during Aug. 8 to 25, 2019. Near Ginza and Hibiya Stations (subway) and the Imperial Palace. On weekends, maybe you can see official mascots Miraitowa and Someity. 超ふつうじゃない2020展 Official site: https://www.mitsuifudosan.co.jp/bethechange/other_changes/cho_futsujanai2020/ Map: https://goo.gl/maps/jRWKYgCi1wSnUYzh7
Tokyo 2020 Official Countdown Clock at Tokyo Station
You can see a few Olympic venues still under construction. From the Yurikamome Line you can see the Ariake Arena and the Ariake Gymnastics Centre under construction. These two venues might require a 15-min. or longer walk from the arrival train station. The so-called “Last Mile” (including the security check) might be a major problem in the summer heat for some venues. The organizer is thinking about how to make it cooler/easier for spectators.
The new Olympic Stadium (New National Stadium) is also clearly visible from the surrounding roads and the JR Chuo and Sobu Lines. The closest stations are Kokuritsu-Kyogijo Station (Oedo Line) and JR Sendagaya Station.
Official Tokyo 2020 Olympics Stores
Official Tokyo 2020 Olympics merchandise is available in official stores in Tokyo and major cities like Sapporo, Sendai, Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Fukuoka, and Naha. Many of the official shops are inside a BIC Camera store. There’s also an online shop, but it doesn’t ship outside Japan: https://tokyo2020shop.jp/ List of official shops: https://tokyo2020shop.jp/contents/official_shop
Tokyo city buses with Olympic mascot livery
Some Tokyo city buses (Toei) have the Olympic mascot livery. They run in central Tokyo such in Nihonbashi, Shinjuku, Kiba, and Koto-ku. Currently, there are 18 Toei city buses in this livery with more to come. A few Odakyu, Keio, and Seibu buses will also sport this design.
This is the 2019 schedule of Awa Odori dance festivals to be held in the Tokyo/Kanto area (Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba Prefectures) from June to October 2019. Nobody has compiled such a schedule so I did it myself.
Most Awa Odori are held in the summer and a few are held in autumn. A few are held as part of a local festival like Tanabata. Most are held on two days, but a few are held only on one day. Some Awa Odori also have a festival eve events on the day before the Awa Odori.
Official websites usually have information only in Japanese. Click on the train station names to see a Google Map of that station. Double question marks (??) indicate information (usually dates) to be announced. Also, an illustrated list of essential Awa Odori vocabulary is provided at the end. (Great for people learning Japanese.)
Note for spectators:
Summer can be very hot and humid. Be prepared with cold drinks, ice pack, etc. Rain (including typhoons) is always possible. A raincoat is better than an umbrella in crowds. Take pictures/videos only from the sidelines, do not enter the parade route to shoot. Do not use tripods. Strollers should not be used. And no smoking.
Festivals can always be canceled in bad weather. Typhoons and rainstorms are always possible in summer. If the weather forecast looks bad, check whether the festival will be held.
*Awa Odori in Tokushima is held annually on Aug. 12th–15th, 2019.
–JUNE 2019 (6月)–
None that I know of.
–JULY 2019 (7月)–
Koiwa Awa Odori 小岩阿波おどり (Katsushika-ku, Tokyo) ・When: July 6, 2019, 6:15 pm–8:15 pm ・Where: Near JR Koiwa Station, North Exit (JR Sobu Line). ・About: New awa odori that started in 2014. About 15 troupes.
・Photos: ・Official website:https://koiwa-awaodri.jimdo.com/
Oedo Niiza Matsuri (Awa Odori) 大江戸新座祭り (阿波おどり) (Niiza, Saitama) ・When: July 20, 2019, 2:00 pm–8:00 pm ・Where: Near JR Niiza Station (JR Musashino Line), South Exit, Furusato Niiza-kan hall area. ・About: The Niiza Awa Odori was held for 32 years until 2014. It has been replaced by this Oedo Niiza Festival in 2015. It is now a local summer festival starting at 11:00 am and featuring a variety of stage entertainment and performers including a school band, hip hop, and samba dancers before climaxing with Awa Odori in the end during 5:05 pm–8:00 pm. About 20 Awa Odori troupes will dance.
・Photos: ・Official website:http://www.ooedo-niiza.com/
Kasei Awa Odori かせい阿波おどり (Nakano-ku, Tokyo) ・When: July 27 (4:00 pm–6:00 pm) and 28 (5:00 pm–8:00 pm), 2019 ・Where: Near Toritsu Kasei Station (Seibu Shinjuku Line). ・About: Held since 1979. About 10 troupes will dance along the narrow shopping street near the train station. Since the dance route is narrow, you can see the dancers up close. The dance route is cut in half (north and south) by the train line. Local troupe is Kasei-ren formed by the local neighborhood when the festival started.
・Photos: ・Official website:https://www.facebook.com/%E3%81%8B%E3%81%9B%E3%81%84%E9%80%A3-369020693216519/
Mobara Awa Odori (Mobara Tanabata Matsuri) もばら阿波おどり (Mobara, Chiba) ・When: July 28, 2019, 6:00 pm–8:10 pm ・Where: Near JR Mobara Station (JR Sotobo Line), East Exit, Sun City shopping street. ・About: Part of the Mobara Tanabata Matsuri to be held on July 26–28, 2019. On July 28, an opening ceremony will be held at 5:30 pm, and Awa Odori dancing will start at 6 pm. Eleven troupes will appear along a circular route starting and ending at Sogo Shimin Center.
・Photos: http://www.mobara-tanabata.com/picture/awaodori2016.html ・Official website:http://www.mobara-tanabata.com/bbs2.html
Hibiya Expo Oedo Matsuri 日比谷大江戸まつり (Tokyo) ・When: July 26–28, 2019, 10:00 am–8:00 pm (till 6:00 pm on 28th) ・Where:Hibiya Park, near Hibiya Station, Kasumigaseki Station, and JR Yurakucho Station. ・About: Only a few awa odori troupes appear in this parade of different festivals.
・Photos: ・Official website:https://www.hibiyapark.info/2019/hibiyaoed-matsuri-2019/
Naka-Meguro Summer Festival 中目黒夏まつり (Meguro-ku, Tokyo) ・When: Aug. 3–4, 2019, 6:00 pm–8:30 pm ・Where: Near Naka-Meguro Station (Tokyu Toyoko Line and Hibiya Line). ・About: It’s a two-day summer festival. The first day (Aug. 4) features Awa Odori (27 troupes) and the second day (Aug. 5) has yosakoi dancers (33 groups). At 5:30 pm on both days, there’s an opening ceremony. They dance along the shopping streets next to the train/subway station, but the streets are narrow and it’s mostly standing room only. Normal people also walk along the streets so it can be hard to get good photos. But you get to see the dancers and musicians up close.
・Photos: ・Official website:http://www.e-nakameguro.com/
Shimo-Kitazawa Ichibangai Awa Odori 下北沢一番街 阿波おどり (Setagaya-ku, Tokyo) ・When: Aug. 17-18, 2019, 6:30 pm–8:30 pm ・Where: Near Shimo-Kitazawa Station, North Exit (Inokashira Line and Odakyu Line). ・About: Held along the Ichibangai shopping streets.There will be around 12 dance troupes on both nights, including Hifumi-ren and Yattoko-ren which are from Shimo-Kitazawa. One troupe will be for anyone to join in and dance (tobi-iri-ren). From 8:10 pm to 8:30 pm, each troupe will give a dance performance at designated places. Note that the streets are quite narrow with little room to sit. It’s basically a standing room-only festival.
・Photos: ・Official website:http://www.shimokita1ban.com/en/awaodori
Ontake Furusato Odori おんたけ ふるさと踊り (Ota-ku, Tokyo) ・When: Aug. 17–18, 2019, 6:00 pm–8:30 pm ・Where: Near Ontakesan Station (Tokyu Ikegami Line). ・About: A two-day dance festival with a Bon dance held on the first night (Aug. 18) and Awa Odori on the second night. There will be around five Awa Odori dance troupes. Most are quite famous in Tokyo. The local troupes includes Kusunoki-ren.
・Photos: ・Official website: https://otakushoren.com/cp-bin/wp/category/events
Koenji Awa Odori (Koenji, Suginami-ku, Tokyo) ・When: Aug. 24–25, 2019, 5:00 pm–8:00 pm ・Where: Near JR Koenji Station (JR Chuo Line) and Shin-Koenji Station (Marunouchi subway line). ・About: Tokyo’s biggest Awa Odori with over 50 dance troupes each evening and a million spectators over the two days. There are multiple venues or roads where they dance. The larger roads are very crowded, but the narrower parade paths are less crowded. Go early if you want to sit in a good spot.
・Photos: https://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=337 ・Official website:http://koenji-awaodori.com/
Misato Awa Odori (Japan Festa Autumn) みさと阿波おどり (Misato, Saitama) ・When: Oct. ??, 2019, 10:00 am–3:00 pm ・Where:Misato Park (From JR Kanamachi Station on the JR Joban Line, take the bus bound for Misato Station or Misato Chuo Station and get off at Takasu-chiku Bunka Center Iriguchi. Or from Misato Station on the JR Musashino Line or Misato Chuo Station on the Tsukuba Express Line, take a bus bound for Kanamachi Station Minami-guchi and get off at Misato Koen-mae.) ・About: Festival featuring not only awa odori, but also taiko drummers. Misato Park is on the border with Katsushika Ward’s Mizumoto Park in Tokyo.
・Photos: ・Official website:
–AWA ODORI ESSENTIAL VOCABULARY (Illustrated)–
Awa Odori (阿波おどり)
Awa Odori (阿波おどり or 阿波踊り) – Dance of Awa Province. “Awa” is the old name for present-day Tokushima Prefecture where the dance originated. “Awa” does not mean “bubble” (泡) in this case. “Odori” means “dance.” It is based on the bon dance to welcome returning spirits of the deceased.
ren (連) – Awa Odori dance troupe. The troupe’s name is tagged with “ren” at the end. A few troupes use a different tag instead of “ren.” A troupe consists of child, male, and female dancers and musicians. At the head is a pole lantern bearing the name of the troupe. “Jimoto-ren” (地元連) is a troupe from the place where the Awa Odori is held. And “shotai-ren” (招待連) are invited troupes.
Niwaka-ren (にわか連) – Dance troupe for anyone to freely join in and dance (tobi-iri sanka). No special costume required. Easy to spot since they wear no uniform and look disorganized. Some Awa Odori festivals have a Niwaka-ren. Or sometimes at the end, anyone can join in with the dance troupe.
embujo (演舞場) – Dance venue where the troupes dance for spectators. This is usually a section of a street or large avenue. There may be bleachers or just a sidewalk where people can sit and watch. The bleachers are for paid seating. The venue may also be called “kaijo” (会場) which is a generic term for venue and may be numbered.
Nagashi-odori (dance parade)
nagashi-odori (流し踊り) – Dancers dance while moving down the road in a parade.
kumi-odori (組踊り) – Instead of moving in a parade, the dancers perform in one location for a prolonged period around 15-20 min. It could be a special area along the parade route or a stage. Often performed as the final number.
otoko odori (男踊り)
otoko odori (男踊り)
otoko odori (男踊り) – Men’s dance where they crouch low with the knees pointed outward. They usually wear a happi coat, shorts, and tabi socks. They may also dance with an uchiwa fan or paper lantern. Children and women can also dance the men’s dance. In the troupe, otoko odori usually appears before the onna odori.
onna odori (女踊り)
onna odori (女踊り) – Women’s dance. They wear a yukata, crescent-shaped hat, and wooden geta clogs. They dance in various formations while hopping on their clogs. Elegant-looking and the troupe’s main members.
aho (阿保) – Fool. Awa Odori dancers shake their hands above their heads. This is happens to be the Japanese gesture to indicate one’s idiocy. So it is nicknamed the “fool’s dance.”
“Yatto-sa! Yatto-sa!” (ヤットサーヤットサー)
“Yatto-sa! Yatto-sa!” (ヤットサーヤットサー) – “Yatto-sa, yatto-yatto, yoisa, yatto-sa!” A dance cheer often shouted by dancers. It means, “Long time no see! How have you been?” This is not normal Japanese.
yakko odori (やっこ踊り)
yakko odori (やっこ踊り) – Kite dance with an acrobatic dancer miming as a kite controlled by a kite handler with an invisible string. Humorous and dramatic especially when the kite does cartwheels and somersaults. Only a few troupes perform the kite dance.
narimono (鳴り物) – Musicians. They appear at the end of the dance troupe and consist of flute players (fue 笛), shamisen players (三味線), bell player (kane 鉦) who sets the rhythm, and taiko drummers at the end.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine (亀戸天神社) is one of Tokyo’s most beloved Shinto shrines. It has pretty flowers, it’s photogenic, it’s historical, and it retains a local ambience.
From late April to early May, the shrine grounds will be colored purple during its annual Wisteria Festival (Fuji Matsuri藤まつり). The shrine is central Tokyo’s most famous spot for wisteria, and people crowd the 15 wisteria trellises accenting the pond and two vermillion arch bridges. The flowers are daintily fragrant, and the vines spiral upward in fantastic shapes. Azaleas also bloom at the same time, making it very colorful in a compact place.
If you don’t have time during the day, come in the evening to see the wisteria lit up from sunset to midnight. The purple flowers are beautiful against the twilight or night sky. The crowd is also smaller in the evenings.
The shrine is in eastern Tokyo in a Koto Ward neighborhood called Kameido, not far from Akihabara (8 min. by train) and Tokyo Skytree. It has made Kameido synonymous with wisteria since the Edo Period (17th–19th centuries). Hiroshige’s 19th-century woodblock print of Kameido Tenjin’s wisteria made it especially famous. The wisteria and shrine buildings today date from after World War II since the shrine and much of Kameido were destroyed by firebombings in 1945.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine is one of the thousands of Tenmangu/Tenjin shrines in Japan that worship the famous Japanese scholar Sugawara Michizane (845–903) deified as Tenjin, the god of learning and scholarship. Many students pray here especially during January to February to pass school entrance exams or to do well in school.
Japan’s most venerated Tenmangu shrine is Dazaifu Tenmangu built in the 10th century over the spot where Michizane was buried in Fukuoka Prefecture in Kyushu. In the mid-17th century, Dazaifu Tenmangu’s priest (Michizane descendant) looked around eastern Japan to establish a branch shrine. He came upon Kameido village where there was a small Tenjin shrine. He decided to use it to worship a statue of Michizane carved from a sacred plum tree. Later, Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641–1680) donated the land for this shrine that became Kameido Tenjin Shrine.
By 1662, the shrine’s basic layout and buildings took shape based on Dazaifu Tenmangu in Fukuoka. We can see a red torii gate, Shinji Pond, two taikobashi arch bridges, and a flat bridge. The first arch bridge (named “Otoko-bashi“) represents the past, the flat bridge (“Hirabashi“) is the present, and the second arch bridge (“Onna-bashi“) is the future. Cross all three bridges to purify your heart before praying at the Haiden main shrine hall. The shrine grounds also has many monuments, a few smaller shrines, and plum trees.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine was initially named Higashi Saifu Tenmangu or Kameido Saifu Tenmangu before it was finally renamed “Kameido Tenjinsha” (commonly called “Kameido Tenjin”) in 1936. It is the only Tenmangu shrine established as a direct branch of Dazaifu Tenmangu. The other Tenmangu/Tenjin shrines were established independently.
The Kameido (“Turtle Well”) district was so named because it used to be a turtle-shaped island (Kamejima) and there was a well in a popular plum garden. By coincidence or intention, Kameido Tenjin’s Shinji Pond teems with turtles. There is a modern-day custom for worshippers whose prayers at the shrine came true to release a turtle into the shrine’s pond as a gesture of appreciation. Most of them bring red-ear slider turtles which are small and cute as pets, but are invasive species. They grow to a large size and crowd out native turtles. The shrine does not condone this custom, so don’t bring a turtle to the shrine after passing your school exam.
Besides wisteria, Kameido Tenjin is noted for plum blossoms from early February to early March. Plum blossoms are associated with Sugawara Michizane because he once wrote a poem for his beloved plum blossoms that flew through the air to follow him when he was exiled to Dazaifu, Fukuoka. Kameido Tenjin’s crest is also the plum blossom.
On March 25, Kameido Tenjin Shrine holds its annual Taimatsu Torch Festival to mark the anniversary of Michizane’s death on March 25. People carry a lit torch around the shrine along with priets.
In late October to November, the shrine holds a chrysanthemum festival displaying exotic species and sculptures of chrysanthemum.
The shrine grounds is open 24/7 and admission is free, but the main shrine hall is open only from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. With the pond, vermillion arch bridges, red torii, and Tokyo Skytree in the background, great flower pictures are waiting to be taken at Kameido Tenjin Shrine.
Kameido Tenjin is a 15-minute walk from JR Kameido Station‘s North Exit (JR Sobu Line or Tobu Kameido Line). Local shops and restaurants are along the way. Address: Kameido 3-6-1, Koto-ku, Tokyo
*This article is an expanded version of my article published in via magazine (Spring 2019 issue), the onboard magazine of the Airport Limousine bus in the Tokyo area and lobby magazine at all branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan.