For the past 200 years, the Kameido Tenjin Shrine has held a special New Year’s festival called ‘Usokae’ – meaning bullfinch exchange. The bullfinch is a special bird in Japan thought to bring good luck. Visitors to the Usokae festival can bring with them wooden bullfinch figurines from last year’s event and exchange them for new ones to renew their good fortune for another year.
Taking place on Osanbashi Pier, the scenic international ferry terminal between Minato Mirai and Yamashita Park, this event is both a craft beer jubilee and a contest between the vendors. Thirty-two Japanese brewers and six international importers will be setting up shop, offering a staggering 300-plus beers on tap. Entrance is only ¥500, with craft beers starting at ¥300 a glass.
The symbiotic relationship between photography and architecture began in 1827, when French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833) took the first ever photograph of a corner of a building through a window. Niépce was searching for ways to produce images, and thus set up a device called a camera obscura, which captured and projected scenes illuminated by sunlight. The result he got was a blurred image of a building, but from then on, a new medium was born and the link was created – photography has since been used to document old and new structures as well as cityscapes. Taken mostly from the museum’s collection, this exhibition will feature architectural stills by local and international photographers. The works on display include works from the late 1820s to newer works by contemporary photographers. Here you will discover and experience architecture from the photographer’s perspective.
Ukiyo-e prints were to Edo-period folks as magazines and comic strips are to us in modern times: a form of amusement and mass entertainment, depicting scenes from everyday life. This exhibition of ‘cute and funny’ ukiyo-e prints has been curated to evoke in us modern-day viewers the same feelings the Edo-ites folks would have felt when viewing Ukiyo-e art at the time: a sense of humour and light-heartedness. The prints show strange creatures, slapstick comedy, anthropomorphised animals interacting with humans, caricatures of characters from classical stories, and women donning kimonos decorated with outlandish motifs.
Warm up your innards at Yokohama's Red Brick Warehouse in late January, which is when this 'nabe hut' opens on the facility's main plaza. The hot pot haven offers a wide range of mixtures, from the standard pork and cabbage version to chanko, every sumo wrestler's nabe of choice. Anko nabe (a hearty anglerfish mixture) and Akita's kiritanpo (with roasted rice skewers) should also rank among the most popular offerings, which can all be combined with beer and nihonshu.
The Carton Fair takes place at The National Art Center, Tokyo’s gift shop Souvenir from Tokyo in conjunction with the release of the new documentary ‘From All Corners (Tabisuru Danboru)’ by artist Fuyuki Shimazu. The flim features Shimazu's travels around the world, collecting unique cardboard boxes and turning them into adorable wallets and card cases. At this special fair, you can get your hands on these original items.
To commemorate what would have been the 100th birthday of beloved painter and illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki, the Chihiro Art Museum has been holding a series of events throughout 2018. Along with its sister museum in Nagano, Chihiro has invited architects, fashion designers, poets and more to adapt Iwasaki’s works. Up next in the spotlight is photographer Yurie Nagashima, who will be exhibiting works on ‘women’ and ‘family’.
Test out your wizarding skills at this limited-time Wizarding World Café, coming to both Tokyo and Fukuoka this month. There aren't many details available on the magical café just yet, but expect the decor and food menu to be inspired by the Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter franchise, plus a showing of unreleased movie clips and photos. Word has it that there will be three distinct themed areas and the café will look like a set in Paris as the French city is a key location in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts film. Don't worry if you're not a wizard; we are sure muggles are welcome here. This is the world's first official Harry Potter café and it's opening just in time for the release of the latest flick, 'Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald'. To get in, visit the café when it first opens from 10.30am where you'll receive a ticket with your designated time slot. You can also make reservations ahead of time to dine in the special movie area. For reservations for the special movie room, visit here.
Tokyo's most indulgent romantics will be stocking up on fancy chocolates at the annual Salon du Chocolat, held just a few weeks before Valentine's Day. For 2019, the Tokyo incarnation of Paris's famous chocolate trade show will be held at the Shinjuku NS Building. If you don't mind braving the crowds, there will be a range of exotic, hard-to-find treats on offer, including goodies from a selection of bean-to-bar brands (meaning they control everything from bean processing to the final product design). Expect to see the ever-popular, familiar names such as Jean-Paul Hévin, Henri Le Roux and Hugo & Victor, as well as newcomers such as Ika, a top chocolatier from Tel Aviv. Note: tickets must be purchased in advance.
One of the most celebrated 17th-century Dutch masters, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is the current feature at the Ueno Royal Museum. While Vermeer is known for his limited production (some scholars believe he only painted 35 pieces in total), this exhibition will be showing the most number of his paintings ever in Japan – nine, to be exact. Vermeer is considered a shadowy figure in the history of art as little was known about him and his importance until the 1870s when he was rediscovered, with 35 paintings identified as his. Recognised as a ‘master of light’, Vermeer’s painting captures the everyday life in 17th century Netherlands, depicting women in sparse domestic interiors. One viewing tip: Vermeer used light to guide the viewers through his paintings. Once you follow the natural lighting, the subject will draw you in. The closer you look, the more you will notice the details Vermeer put into not only light and colour but also the textures and the perspectives. (Do note that there may be changes in the exhibits during the exhibition run.)
Free things to do in Tokyo today
This Shiodome shopping complex always puts a lot of work into its Christmas light-ups, and this year is no exception: for this year, the Caretta Illumination will have a 'Princess Story' theme inspired by Disney and Pixar films like 'Tangled' and 'Frozen'. It's blatantly commercial, sure, but still worth a quick look on a dark winter evening. Just like last year, the illumination display will stay up until Valentine's Day. Also, from November 21st, as they'll have a special light up dedicated to 'The Incredibles' at 5pm each day.
Marunouchi Naka-dori, always one of the most popular Tokyo illumination spots, will be lit up with countless champagne-coloured, extra-low energy LED bulbs this year too, making for a display that's as environmentally friendly as it is stylish. Just strolling down the glittering street, which is lined with fancy boutiques and cafés, makes for a nice post-dinner date option.
One of the top illumination events in Tokyo in terms of scale, and boasting hundreds of thousands of LEDs strung all around the complex, Tokyo Dome City’s light-up has an ‘Edo Elegance Japanese Beauty’ theme this winter inspired by traditional Japanese crafts. You can also look forward to Edo Kiriko transformed into a kaleidoscope, glowing origami cranes and other quirky contraptions, while the restaurants and cafés around the facility offer special candy-themed menus.
An annual wintertime display at Yebisu Garden Place, this one incorporates a Baccarat chandelier that's 5m tall and 3m wide – making it one of the largest chandeliers in the world – and decorated with 250 lights, 230 of which symbolise the number of years from the company’s establishment to the construction of the chandelier in 1994. In total – including lesser displays in areas such as the Entrance Pavilion, Clock Plaza, Promenade, Center Plaza and Glass Square – the venue makes use of almost 100,000 lights. The festivities are kicked off with a lighting ceremony on November 3.