Free things to do in Tokyo
Granted, it's a minnow compared to the Koenji Awa-Odori that takes place a week later, but Shimokitazawa's version of the famed dancing-in-the-streets fest (originally from Tokushima) has a unique charm of its own. Held for the 53rd time this year, the Shimokitazawa Awa-Odori sees teams of dancers romp along the neighbourhood's main shopping streets in the evening, then dazzle the assembled hordes with their own special routines later on. Be sure to hang around afterwards, when the area is engulfed in a wave of booze-sodden joie de vivre.
Sangenjaya, known as Sancha among the locals, holds its annual Latin Festival with several live performances throughout these two days. Munch on some traditional festival food while taking in the scenery of the spectacular samba parade, taking place on August 19 from 1.30pm.
Dance the traditional way at Rinko Park's Bon Festival, where you can also catch a taiko drumming performance, snack on above-average festival grub, get buzzed on nihonshu and beer and take in the sweaty summer atmosphere of Yokohama. Definitely an event enjoyable for visitors of all ages.
One of Tokyo's favourite traditional festivals, the Azabu-Juban Noryo Matsuri (noryo literally translates as 'cool of the evening') has been going on for over 50 years now. It returns in late August for two days of dancing, performances, live music and international food, along with snack and craft stalls set up by local businesses and visiting representatives from all over the country. Dust off your yukata and prepare to battle some serious crowds.
Late August is always a good time for dancing in the streets, with many major festivals kicking off. The original yosakoi dance started life in Kochi in 1954, where it was intended to help revitalise the struggling post-war economy, and Tokyo's own Super Yosakoi festival has been going for over a decade now. The event sees more than 100-odd teams of brightly attired dancers trying to outdo each other as they strut their stuff to the rhythm of the naruko – a type of clapper that the people of Kochi originally used to scare birds away from their fields.
Around 10,000 dancers pile out on to the streets of Koenji over the two days of the annual Awa-Odori, undoubtedly one of Tokyo's most energetic festivals – and one with crowds to match. The awa-odori ('awa dance') tradition can be traced back to Tokushima in Shikoku, where the story goes that the local daimyo plied his citizens with booze to celebrate the completion of the local castle in 1586, leading to a citywide outbreak of dancing in the streets. Whatever the accuracy of that tale, the enthusiasm was contagious, and Koenji has been holding a dance of its own since 1957. While the action starts at 5pm, you'll need to arrive much earlier if you want to snag one of the best viewing spots.
Known as a 'love shrine', Kawagoe Hikawa out in Saitama attracts plenty of fed-up singles looking for help in finding the partner of their dreams. This relatively new summer festival is another chance to do just that, as the hot summer night atmosphere and pretty light-ups ensure that love will be in the air. Colourful fuurin (wind chimes) adorn the grounds and the food and drink stalls include a shrine café.
One of the biggest summer festivals in Asakusa, this colourful parade runs from Umamichi-dori to Kaminarimon-dori, and teems with hundreds of dancers and numerous giant floats. It boasts teams from all over Japan, including long-established ensembles and mega-groups that have as many as 200 members. This spectacular samba carnival is a little slice of Brazil.
Now back for its 16th edition, this lively Roppongi Hills event features traditional Bon Odori dance performed in a purpose-built arena by yukata-clad dancers – feel free to join in, as long as you're appropriately dressed. Decorations add to the atmosphere, while the surrounding stalls cater to hungry crowds with all the usual festival fare, as well as gourmet choices provided by area restaurants. Note that there's no dancing on Friday.
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and dive into a sea of yellow at Kiyose Sunflower Festival. Every summer a wheat farm on the outskirts of Tokyo turns into a magnificent sunflower field. The 100,000 sunny blooms here aren’t the only attraction as local farmers will also be selling fresh produce on site. Get ready to flood your Instagram feed with these towering beauties or indulge your inner Van Gogh and take a sketchpad and pencils, but bear in mind that your shoes might not emerge from Kiyose mud-free.