teamLab Ibaraki – cropped to fit1/4
Photo: ©teamLabteamLab at Kairakuen Garden, Ibaraki
Fujikyu Highland2/4
Photo: Fujikyu
New National Stadium for Tokyo Olympic 20203/4
Photo: F11photo/Dreamstime
Super Nintendo World4/4
Photo: Nintendo

10 things to look forward to in 2021 in Tokyo and Japan

Super Nintendo World, new teamLab exhibition, art festivals and the Olympics – here’s what’s happening in Japan next year

By Kasey Furutani
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2020 has been quite a doozy. What was supposed to be an exciting year for Tokyo turned into entry bans and states of emergency due to Covid-19. However, a new year is approaching and we’re getting our hopes up – the government is considering allowing international tourists in spring 2021, just in time for the Olympics

This year saw tons of new openings, from Shibuya’s Miyashita Park to trendy food halls like The Restaurant at Eat Play WorksCommissary and Toranomon Yokocho. The ever-evolving city is still transforming as we head into 2021 and there’s plenty more to come, from art festivals to new theme parks. Did you spend last year planning your dream Japan trip? Here are ten things to look forward to in 2021 – and we look forward to seeing you in Tokyo soon.

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Looking ahead

Olympics 2016
Olympics 2016
Photograph: Shutterstock

Cheer at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics

July to September 2021

Yes, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games are happening this year, and yes, they are still called Tokyo 2020. This will be an event like no other: overseas ticket holders are still welcome and might even be able to skip quarantine; however, Covid-19 safety protocols will be put in place, possibly including no shouting while watching the Games. The Olympics will still have the usual 33 competitions and 339 events throughout Tokyo, along with some brand new ones: sport climbing, surfing, skateboarding and karate. 

The fun will kick off with the torch relay on March 25 2021 in Fukushima. The torch will travel to all 47 prefectures and will land in Tokyo on July 9 2021 for a 15-day journey through the capital.

Super Nintendo World
Super Nintendo World
Photo: Nintendo

Save Princess Peach at Super Nintendo World

Opening sometime in 2021

We spent 2020 playing Mario on Nintendo Switch and even in Lego form. In 2021, we can jump down a green warp pipe and enter the IRL Mushroom Kingdom at Universal Studios Japan’s Super Nintendo World. You can don your red (or green, if you’re a Luigi stan) plumber’s hat and ride a Mario Kart through bad boy Bowser’s fortress, explore Princess Peach’s castle and hop on a Yoshi ride. 

The park is chock-full of interactive games and challenges where you can collect your own gold coins to help retrieve Princess Peach’s Golden Mushroom. Super Nintendo World brings vintage and modern Mario to life and is sure to be a huge hit with the whole family. 

Note: The original February 4 opening date has been pushed back indefinitely due to the state of emergency in Osaka.

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teamLab Ibaraki
teamLab Ibaraki
Photo: ©teamLab

See a whole new illumination at teamLab Digitized Kairakuen Garden

February and March 2021

Art collective teamLab is back again with a brand new exhibition at Ibaraki’s Kairakuen Garden, famous for its 3,000 plum blossom trees that bloom in late winter. From February 13 to March 21 2021, the digital art installation will coincide with the 125th Mito Plum Blossom Festival, so you’ll be able to enjoy workshops and events, or just picnic next to teamLab’s rainbow egg-like sculptures and floral projections. 

Much like the surrounding nature, the artwork changes with human interaction, so you won’t see the same thing twice. The exhibition runs after sundown, from 6pm to 8.30pm – it’ll be a whole new type of illumination.

Kengo Kuma Library
Kengo Kuma Library
Photo: ©Kengo Kuma & Associates

Get literary at the Haruki Murakami Library

Opening spring 2021

Local and international literary sensation Haruki Murakami might be the most famous living Japanese writer. In spring 2021 the author will be honoured with his own library, the Haruki Murakami Library at Waseda University, Murakami’s alma mater. 

Also called the The Waseda International House of Literature, the library will act as a cultural centre based on Murakami’s personal archive and his literature, both in Japanese and in translation. To top it all off, starchitect Kengo Kuma is designing the space which will include ‘research reference rooms, study desks, seminar and audio spaces, and a cafe,’ for students and the public.

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Kiyotsu gorge tunnel of light
Kiyotsu gorge tunnel of light
Photo: ikeda_a / PIXTA

Explore nature and modern art at the Echigo Tsumari Triennale

Summer 2021

Japan loves both contemporary art and festivals and frequently brings the two together in its beautiful, countryside locations. Summer 2021 calls for the Echigo Tsumari Triennale, an international contemporary art festival held in the mountains of Niigata. Every three years, new pieces of art and architecture are added to the landscape, which already includes Kiyotsu Gorge’s Tunnel of Light and James Turrell’s House of Light

The list of artwork is yet to be announced, but expect lots of sustainably-built creations that incorporate the natural, green landscape and contribute to the local town, which was devastated by an earthquake in 2004.

Fujikyu Highland
Fujikyu Highland
Photo: Fujikyu

Get high at Fujiyama’s new observatory at Fuji-Q Highland

Summer 2021

Fuji-Q Highland’s most terrifying roller coaster, Fujiyama, is known for its beautiful, panoramic views of its namesake mountain and Japan’s crown jewel. In summer 2021, scaredy cats can witness the adrenaline rush of being sky high – without the free falls – at the new Fujiyama Sky Deck. This outdoor observatory is 55m high (not quite as tall as the roller coaster’s 79m high point) and is located outside the park, so anyone can stop by. 

Adrenaline seekers take note: the deck will also house the Fujiyama Walk, a path in the air without handrails that was previously only open to maintenance staff. You’ll don a harness and get to walk beside the rollercoaster with a unique view of Mt Fuji. Rather get back on solid ground? Look for the giant twisting slide that’ll get you down from the observatory in seconds.

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Roku Kyoto
Roku Kyoto
Photo: Hilton

Restart your travel plans with a splurge at a new luxury hotel

In anticipation of the Olympics, luxury hotels began popping up left and right. Luckily, this trend is still going strong in the new year with openings throughout the country. Instead of staying in a tiny business hotel or old school ryokan, travellers wanting to flaunt their yen can opt for the Roku Kyoto in peaceful northern Kyoto – it’s walking distance to the Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion and opens in autumn 2021. The luxury hotel, LXR Hotels & Resorts first property in Asia Pacific, will be added to Shozan Resort Kyoto, a peaceful oasis of tranquil Japanese gardens and refurbished historic buildings. 

Those travelling down south can splurge at Kai Ryokan, a boutique luxury hot spring hotel, in onsen capital Kagoshima. Opening January 2021, each room has grand views of the Sakurajima volcano and access to outdoor hot springs in a field of silvergrass.

Japanese sento bathhouse
Japanese sento bathhouse
Photo: Soyoung Han/Unsplash

Have an arty bath at the Tokyo Sento Festival

May to September 2021

Sento, local public bathhouses, are much more than a place to clean yourself. Some of the city’s most gorgeous artwork, normally depicting Mt Fuji, is also found in these bathhouses. In 2021, the Tokyo Sento Festival will celebrate sento art with new paintings, guest artists and a stamp rally. 

Four local sento in Kichijoji, Shimbashi, Yoyogi Hachiman and Uguisudani will host guest manga and anime artists to create a modern perspective on the classic Mt Fuji bathhouse art. Supervised by Mizuki Tanaka, one of the last sento mural artists, the festival will feature 500 local sento in Tokyo where participants can purchase commemorative noren curtains and ‘sento hop’ to collect stamps and win a special Tokyo Sento Festival towel.

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Nakanoshima Museum of Art
Nakanoshima Museum of Art
Photo: fb.com/NakanoshimaMuseumofArtOsaka

Learn about Japanese contemporary art history at the Nakanoshima Museum of Art

Sometime in 2021

Osaka might be a nightlife city filled with street food and drinks, but Nakanoshima, an island in between the Dojimagawa and Tosaborigawa rivers, is where locals and tourists spend the day. The Nakanoshima Museum of Art will be the latest addition to the area and will feature over 5,700 pieces of western and Asian modern art and design. 

The permanent collection contains European greats like surrealist René Magritte and French sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon. You’ll also find Japanese artists such as modern painters Yoshihara Jiro and Fujishima Takeji, known for yoga (western style art) paintings in the Impressionist style. An exact date hasn’t been announced yet, but the museum will open in 2021.

An artist's impression of the planned renovation of the former Nintendo headquarters, Kyoto
An artist's impression of the planned renovation of the former Nintendo headquarters, Kyoto
Photo: Plan Do See

Sleep in the historic Nintendo Headquarters

Summer 2021

Kyoto is known for its ancient shrines, temples and gardens, so you wouldn’t think the historic city is also the birthplace of Nintendo. However, Nintendo started out as a humble playing card company in 1889 before turning into a video game giant. Die-hard fans could always visit the former headquarters, but it remained empty except for an old-fashioned plaque. 

Now, Plan Do See, a hospitality brand known for breathing life into old spaces, is refurbishing the empty building and turning it into a hotel. The building will still retain its vintage charm along with hotel amenities such as a restaurant and spa.

More to look our for in Japan

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