You know when you go on YouTube — or Spotify, or Netflix — and you’re faced with so many options for entertainment that you don’t know where to start? It can feel like that with Japanese summer festivals, too.
In addition to the abundance of traditional festivals held in neighborhoods across the country, there are events to satiate every possible taste in entertainment. The problem you end up facing isn’t deciding what to do, it’s more deciding what not to do.
Unfortunately, a lot of these summer festivals can’t be done on a whim — with a population of 127 million, you’ll need to book things in advance. From weekend-long concerts to pool parties that will liven up your Instagram Stories, here are some of the season’s finest.
Music festivals in Japan are synonymous with the summer. So let’s just get the heavy hitters out of the way. Fuji Rock Festival (July 27-29) stands as the nation’s premier gathering, attracting tons of different types of acts to Niigata Prefecture’s Naeba Ski Resort. This year finds an eclectic headlining trio of Bob Dylan, Kendrick Lamar and N.E.R.D. A few weeks later comes Summer Sonic (Aug. 18-19) held simultaneously in Chiba and Osaka, with Beck and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds topping the bill. That event also includes Sonicmania (Aug. 17), an all-night party that takes place before the festival proper starts. This year’s edition features Nine Inch Nails, My Bloody Valentine and Marshmello, an EDM DJ dressed like the candy he’s named after.
For those craving something more domestically focused, Rock In Japan Fest (Aug. 4-5, 11-12) crams in dozens of Japanese acts across two weekends in Ibaraki Prefecture. Rising Sun Rock Festival (Aug. 10-11) follows a similar Japan-centric booking policy, but goes down in far more picturesque Hokkaido.
After the big four, nearly every prefecture in Japan has its own rock-heavy festival, although most of the bills look pretty similar. A few exceptions worth checking out include Corona Sunsets Festival (July 14-15) in Okinawa, which brings together dozens of Japanese artists alongside DJ sets from Hot Chip and Cut Copy, and duo Chatmonchy’s own Konason Fes (July 21-22) in Tokushima highlighted by one of the group’s last live shows. Nearer to the capital is Baycamp (Sept. 8) in Kawasaki, combining a solid line-up of Japanese acts with a festival experience condensed into one day. For those looking long term, Ringo Fes (Sept. 22-23) in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, has become a late-season charmer thanks to a forest setting and a program spotlighting a wide array of genres.
On the more genre-specific front, rockers Sim’s Dead Pop Festival (June 30-July 1) in Kawasaki offers the best collection of punk and loud music this summer though, if you have a taste for visual-kei, Luna Sea’s Lunatic Fest (June 23-24) might be the better choice.
Rural (July 14-16) in Nagano Prefecture has become a favorite among dance fans thanks to its chill farm setting and a lineup criss-crossing international with domestic acts. The Labyrinth (Sept. 22-24) closes out the summer as it has for years now — with an intimate techno gathering out in Niigata Prefecture that may or may not be ruined by a typhoon (bring a jacket!). Those seeking something a bit messier, Ultra Japan 2018 (Sept. 15-17) provides trap, trop and every big bass drop you could need. Music Circus ‘18 (Sept. 1 – 2) covers all things EDM for the Kansai region.
Finally, the always reliable Tokyo Jazz Festival (Aug. 31-Sept. 2) returns for its 17th edition. Although the inclusion of Shibuya-kei pioneer Cornelius seems a bit unexpected, the rest of this year’s performers are bound to fill your need for jazz in the dying days of summer
Sitting in an air-conditioned room for several hours isn’t a bad way to beat the humidity, either. The Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia (running until June 24) features around 250 short films shown in various theaters around Tokyo. Make sure to check its website for a complete schedule — some screenings are free but require a reservation, while others cost money.
As nice as a cool theater might be, the most special cinema offerings of the season take advantage of the good weather. One of the more unique experiences comes via the Forest Movie Festival (July 14-16), which takes place next to the Mishima Sky Walk in Shizuoka. Enjoy city views and local food while watching “Stand By Me,” “Baahubali” and “The Walk” respectively on each day. Up north is the Stardust Theater In Haramura (July 27-Aug. 19, except Aug. 3 and 4) in Nagano, though the film schedule hasn’t been revealed yet.
In the capital itself, Shinjuku Central Park will host Screen@Shinjuku Central Park 2018 (July 25-28) featuring four nights of movies close to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. All season long, Yebisu Garden Place will hold Picnic Cinema (July 27-29, Aug. 3-5, Aug. 10-12, Aug. 17-19). Over the course of this near-month, stop by in the evening to watch “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “About Time” and “50 First Kisses” (a Japanese re-imagining of the classic Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore rom-com “50 First Dates”).
One of 2017’s biggest summer trends returns in full force for 2018. Prep your swimsuit and get ready to update your Instagram, because night pools are back. Tokyo’s New Otani hotel already has a Pre-Summer Night Pool 2018 (running Fridays and Saturdays until July 7) party featuring DJs and food, all building up to its regular Night Pool (July 20-Sept. 16). CanCam X Tokyo Prince Hotel Night Pool (July 7-Sept. 17) provides an evening party heavy on the H2O (and inflatables) geared toward the youth, while Toshimaen amusement park’s Night Pool (July 27-Sept. 2) features affordable entry prices and less catering to social media influencers than its peers.
Maybe a garden is more your speed? Well, what about a digital garden? Midtown Loves Summer 2018 (July 13-Aug. 26) places a futuristic plant display at the center of its attractions, found at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi. Besides the chance to stare at shiny lights, this event has several other sleek takes on traditional Japanese art along with a bar serving up seasonally appropriate libations. Computerized takes on ancient history also plays a prominent role at Eco Edo (July 6-Sept. 24), a Nihonbashi-area exhibit highlighted by an art aquarium and streets mimicking old-time Tokyo via high-tech panels in the ground. Lots of special food on sale, too.
It also wouldn’t be summer without people sweating profusely inside fuzzy costumes for the enjoyment of others. The now-annual Pikachu Outbreak (Aug. 10-Aug. 16) in Yokohama sees dozens of the yellow flagship Pokemon parading around the city. This year they’ll sport light-up clothes and put on a stage show. Over at Sanrio Puroland, all of the brand’s ambassadors of kawaii will be out for Puro Natsu Fest 2018 (July 14-Sept. 2), performing special dances and sporting seasonally appropriate clothes (Hello Kitty even has a tan).
Finally, it would be a mistake not to share some places to watch games from this year’s World Cup. Zepp Tokyo and Zepp Osaka are holding public viewings of Japan’s games (June 19, 24 and 28). Expect an MC and analyst, along with drinks to purchase. And, if the squad can navigate a sudden coaching change, maybe you’ll get more in July.