Why You Should Go to Tokyo This Spring

If you like art, flowers, fireflies, or sumo wrestling, it’s Tokyo time.

Why You Should Go to Tokyo This Spring

While cherry blossoms can be seen elsewhere in the city, the nighttime reflection of the trees along the Meguro River adds extra magic.

Photo by Sakarin Sawasdinaka/Shutterstock

The cherry blossoms are exploding into bloom like silent fireworks and Tokyo is shaking off winter. Throughout the city, traditional festivals celebrating the new color and light of spring build anticipation for Golden Week at the end of April, when four national holidays occur in just seven days. Come to Tokyo, join the locals strolling through the falling petals, and see the rest of what spring here has to offer. We’ve got several ideas.

Stroll petal-strewn riverbanks at the Nakameguro Cherry Blossom Festival

In the Nakameguro district, the cherry trees planted along the banks of the Meguro River are laden with pink and white blossoms at this time of year. In the evenings, when lanterns are lit, the sight of the trees and their reflection in the river is particularly stunning. Food stalls and kiosks selling pink champage or beer are set up along the river and side streets, and the trendy Nakameguro neighborhood is filled with restaurants and bars to extend your evening. Through April 10; nakamegu.com

See work by Jesús Rafael Soto at Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo

The dynamic brand of abstract art practiced by the late Venezulean artist Jesús Rafael Soto finds its perfect venue in Tokyo’s airy Espace Louis Vuitton. Soto’s work Pénétrable BBL Bleu is a squared-off field of PVC tubes suspended from a metal framework in the sunlit gallery. The blue-tinted tubes swing above the floor, and viewers are invited to walk through the work, hearing the tubes clack as they swing back into place, seeing the light filtered through the blue, feeling the tubes brush past face and body. The gallery, in the fashionable Omotesando district, is on the top floor of the striking Louis Vuitton building, designed by Japanese architect Jun Aoki to look like a stack of steamer trunks. The tree-lined neighborhood, full of posh stores, makes for fun window-shopping. Through May 12; free, espacelouisvuittontokyo.com

Celebrate spring with a walk through a sea of azaleas at the Nezu Shrine.

Celebrate spring with a walk through a sea of azaleas at the Nezu Shrine.

Photo by Jirobkk/Shutterstock

Sip amazake at a Shinto shrine during the Bunkyo Azalea Festival During the Bunkyo Tsutsuji Matsuri, almost 3,000 azalea bushes bloom in a spectrum of vibrant colors at the 18th-century Nezu Shrine. Representing about 100 varietals of azaleas, this riotous floral display makes the shrine one of the best spots in the city to witness the new spring. Join the locals in admiring the spectacle while sipping sweet amazake, a fermented rice drink (with a lower alcohol content than sake). April 7–May 6; ¥200 (US$1.80), nedujinja.or.jp

View National Treasures of To-ji Temple at the Tokyo National Museum

This exhibit of artifacts from Kyoto’s To-ji temple includes 11 National Treasures and four Important Cultural Properties, two classifications designated by the government to protect artworks and historic items. The temple, founded in 796, is a UNESCO World Heritage site cherished for having been the home of Kūkai, a beloved Buddhist saint. Kūkai made the temple the center of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, and several of the important treasures being displayed at the Tokyo museum can be directly linked to him, including statues of 15 deities that make up part of a 21-sculpture mandala at the temple. This is a hot ticket for followers of Buddhism and Japanese history and culture. Through June 2; ¥200 (US$1.80), tnm.jp

Light up your evening at the Firefly Festival

The 200-year-old Chinzanso Garden has lots to recommend it: a three-tiered pagoda, a red bridge over a lovely pond, and a ceremonial teahouse called Zangetsu, which is designated a Tangible Cultural Property by the government. As if those elements aren’t enough reason for a contemplative visit, the lush vegetation of the garden harbors fireflies that light up the evenings in spring. The garden is on the grounds of the Chinzanso Hotel, which allows visitors to wander for free and hopes to lure them inside the hotel to partake in special firefly-inspired cocktails and champagne. Through June 30; free admission to garden, hotel-chinzanso-tokyo.jp

What started as a Shinto ritual has become Japan’s national sport.

What started as a Shinto ritual has become Japan’s national sport.

Photo by J. Henning Buchholz/Shutterstock

See giants fight at a sumo tournament Sumo tournaments are held in Tokyo only three times a year (January, May, and September) so the best tickets go quickly. Sumo, the national sport of Japan, is a wrestling competition between two immense men, wearing only long strips of cloth, who try to push one another out of the ring. The audience at the Ryogoku Kokugikan stadium sits quietly through the matches, but the arena still crackles with tension. Insider tip: A basement café at the stadium sells small bowls of chanko-nabe, a hot-pot soup that is the mainstay of the sumo wrestler’s diet. Book tickets as early as possible (they are available at convenience stores and through StubHub.com, or your hotel concierge can help you). May 12–26; tickets from ¥3,800 (US$35), sumo.or.jp

>>Next: Plan Your Trip With AFAR’s Guide to Tokyo

Yukari Sakamoto immersed herself in the food and beverage world in Tokyo working at Takashimaya department store’s sake section and at the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s New York Grill and Bar as a sommelier. She is the author of Food Sake Tokyo and offers tours to markets in Tokyo.
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