Colorful yukata and the sound of cicadas mark the beginning of a highly anticipated summer in Japan. From traditional street matsuri (festivals) to raging music fests spotlighting international artists, it’s hard not to get swept up in all the vibrant festivities Tokyo has to offer during the longest days of the year.
Treat yourself to a seasonal konbini ice cream or a fancy kakigori (shaved ice desserts) to beat the heat, or take the train to the nearest beaches and bask in the balmy weather. While some events like music festivals will require booking tickets far in advance – which you can now do through us – no time of year offers more opportunities for spontaneity and adventure. Here’s a list of unmissable activities to revel in the best of the summer.
RECOMMENDED: 88 things to do in Tokyo
The brightly lit pop-up kitchens at Commune 2nd, each with their own selection of craft beer and beverages, create the perfect setting for a steamy summer night in the city. As offices empty, young folk gather here on makeshift wooden benches for a blissful evening of food and drinks. Offerings include delicately crisp seafood fritters from Fish Coop to vegan-friendly falafel platters from Cori. The venue is also a popular event space, so you’ll likely also see pop-up shops selling quirky accessories or live performances from time to time.
Your phone screens will never do these dazzling displays justice. Japan takes immense pride in its fireworks, with shows often lasting between one to two hours. The biggest spectacles are divided into four parts, much like an orchestra symphony, and feature different shapes and colours chosen to symbolise certain themes or events. You’ll want to get there ahead of time to secure a prime viewing spot as the grounds get busy quickly with clusters of families, friends and couples setting up their picnics to watch the display.
In the sweltering summer heat, no Japanese dessert is more refreshing than a snowy mound of kakigori. While syrup-drenched shaved ice continues to be a popular feature at seaside shacks and matsuri stands, these days the city has given the humble kakigori a gourmet makeover with a growing list of unique flavors and premium toppings. Classic strawberry will always be there– so why not opt for something fancy like red wine and white peach yogurt or avocado mascarpone?
There are plenty of ideal picnic spots in town but the iconic view of Tokyo Tower at Shiba Park is hard to beat. If you’re too short for time to pack your own provisions, grab some sandwiches and other baked goods to-go from the nearby Le Pain Quotidien. Apart from the stellar view of a Tokyo landmark, the park has its own fair share of sights worth exploring, including the Zojoji Temple and the Mausoleum of Tokugawa Shoguns.
There’s something about the atmosphere of a matsuri (festival) with its street stalls, lanterns and attendees in yukata that makes it the pinnacle of a Japanese summer. Matsuri are held throughout the year for different occasions, often tied to Buddhist or Shinto practices, but the biggest ones are held in the months of July and August, making them unmissable occasions for anyone looking for a large helping of Japanese food, culture and entertainment. Most shrines and temples will hold matsuri big enough for residents in nearby neighbourhoods to attend, but festivals such as the Fukagawa Matsuri means closing main roads to make way for the grandest procession of the year.
Not even Tokyo Dome is big enough to block the view of its theme park’s most thrilling attraction. Thunder Dolphin roller coaster can hit a speed of 130km/hr and its chilling 80 degree drop results in a screaming match between those on the ride and the spectators in the adjacent stadium. Not an adrenaline junkie? You can get equally good views from the theme park’s ferris wheel or the gently swaying baskets of the ‘Sky Flower’, which are open to children ages four and up.
There’ll be no arrests if you’re found wading in these park fountains. In the warmer months, the ankle-deep pools come alive with the sounds of small children splashing in the shallow waters. The fountains are just one of many facilities at Komazawa Park, which also has athletic fields, a dog run, an Olympic memorial gallery and tracks for jogging and cycling.
Noodles are a Japanese staple through any season, but slurping a piping hot bowl of udon doesn’t seem appetising when you’re also sweating into the broth. Thankfully, there are plenty of mouth-watering noodle options that will satisfy your appetite as well as cool you down. Most udon and soba shops offer zaru udon or zaru soba, where the noodles are rinsed in cool water before being served on a bamboo basket for you to dip into a broth. In addition to classic zaru udon, Tsurutontan’s summer menu features season-limited specials like the beef shabu udon in chilled sesame noodle soup with a citrusy tang of ponzu.
With a maximum capacity for 2,400 people, Ageha is the biggest club in the country – , there’s space for everyone and their mothers to party here. The season promises an exciting line-up of events including pool parties and anime song dance parties for anyone looking to experience nightlife unlike anywhere else in the world. The club is a little far out from the city centre, but don’t worry about catching the last train there as there are shuttle buses from Shibuya that will take you directly to the venue until 5am.
You know the one. Mt Fuji is only open to climbers from the first of July to mid-August, making this mammoth trek a common item on the summer to-do list of many locals – but few get around to actually climbing it. Whether you’re in it to one-up your friends on Instagram or for the quiet glory of seeing the sun rise from the highest peak in Japan, the journey is bound to be an unforgettable one.
World-class cocktails are best paired with killer views, of which there are no shortage of in Tokyo. While the sight of city lights illuminating the night sky are second-to-none, there’s no real reason to wait until the sun goes down to get started on cocktails during the summer. Get a side of nachos with your frozen margarita to admire the city in broad daylight, or watch the sunset with a cosmo in hand from one of the highest bars in town.
If you’re a true festival veteran, you’ll have already rallied your friends and picked your wildest outfits for Fuji Rock or Summer Sonic, but the slew of outdoor music events doesn’t stop there. This year’s summer music festivals range from jazz shows to concerts for under 12s, some of which are completely free and don’t require tickets. Check this list of the best music festivals in Tokyo to find events that suit your style.
On a clear day, go gently sailing on one of the rowboats docked by Canal Cafe in Iidabashi. Each boat can fit up to three people and costs a total of ¥1,000 yen for 40 minutes. Upon returning to the dock, it’s worth grabbing a cone at the cafe’s gelato stand, which offers a seasonal variety of artisanal sorbet and gelato.
You don’t have to pay exorbitant prices for a beach getaway as sandy shores are just a short train ride away from Tokyo. If you fancy combining your day of tanning with some sightseeing, head to the seaside city of Kamakura, which is home to the Great Buddha at Kotokuin Temple. For beach lovers with small children in tow, the island of Enoshima features an interesting aquarium and feels a world away from Tokyo with its surfer-style cafes and coffee shops. Whatever coastline you head to, don’t forget to pack plenty of sunscreen and a pair of shades.
There’s no better way to explore the city than ditching the over-crowded tubes for a quiet cycle around the more attractive backstreets of the large neighbourhoods. Ratio & C operates as a bike and coffee shop, where you can grab an iced latte before renting a bike for the day (¥1,620) and going on your excursion. You can make your way to nearby sites like Meiji Jingu Shrine or Watari-um Museum of Contemporary Art, or go the distance and see how many districts you can cycle to in a day.
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