|The legacy of the pleasure-loving
people of old Edo, modern Tokyo continues to host a huge number
of rituals, festivals,
observances and celebrations.
Beginning with the traditional New Year visit to
major shrines, to pray for good fortune in the coming year, the
Tokyo calendar is loaded with high days and holidays, from the extremely
populist to the positively obscure. Some events mark a specific
anniversary or date in the Buddhist calendar and are restricted
to certain neighbourhoods, shrines or temples, while others, for
example the spring cherry blossom viewing frenzy, occur citywide.
The traditional arts, also, flourish here, with
traditional drama, martial arts, the flower arranging and tea ceremony
all widely taught and performed. Tokyo is included on the touring
schedules of many internationally famous dance, music, pop groups
and art exhibitions, further contributing to the vibrancy of the
local arts and entertainment scene. The Tourist Information
Centre (tel: (03) 3201 3331) maintains a database of detailed
information on the city’s festivals and the English-language
and Tokyo Journal
publish schedules of concerts, events and exhibitions.
The English-language booking agencies, Ticket Pia
(tel: (03) 5237 9999) and Lawson Ticket (tel: (03)
5537 9999), are the major ticket merchants, and have outlets located
around the city. Events are usually sold out and reservations should
be made well in advance.
Those who love classical music are well catered for in Tokyo. There
are plenty of resident symphony orchestras – such as the Tokyo
Philharmonic Orchestra and the Tokyo
Symphony Orchestra – and regular visits by touring orchestras,
choirs and opera companies. There are many major venues, among them
Orchard Hall, 2–24–1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku (tel:
(03) 3477 9999), with transport from Shibuya Station, Suntory
Hall, 1–13–1 Akasaka, Minato-ku (tel: (03) 3584
9999), with transport from Akasaka Station on the Chiyoda underground
line, and the beautifully designed new concert hall, Tokyo
Opera City, 3–20–2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku (tel:
(03) 5353 9999) with transport from Shinjuku Station.
Tokyo International Forum, 3–5–1 Marunochi,
Chiyoda-ku (tel: (03) 5221 9000) with transport from Yurakucho Station
on the JR Yamanote loop line, stages a range of cultural and musical
performances in its 4 halls, on1e being 1 of the largest in the
world, with 5,000 seats. Traditional Japanese musical performances,
such as shamisen (string instrument)
and taiko (drum), are sometimes
held at Bunkamura (see above) and in smaller local venues.
Of Japan’s traditional dramatic arts, kabuki, with its beautiful
costumes, elaborate staging and complex plots, is possibly the most
4–12–15 Ginza, Chuo-ku (tel: (03) 3541 3131), with transport
from Higashi-Ginza Station on the Hibiya and Asakusa underground
lines, presents regular performances and offers English earphone
commentary. Performances are lengthy, sometimes lasting 5 or 6 hours,
however, it is normally possible to purchase tickets for a single
Details on programs of other traditional performing arts, including
noh (restrained and highly stylised drama,
little has changed since Japan’s medieval era), bunraku
(puppet theatre) and kyogen (short
satirical plays, usually performed as intervals during
noh dramas), can be acquired from the Tourist Information
Centre (tel: (03) 3201 3331).
Modern Japanese theatre tends to be obscure and the language barrier
is an added dissuasion. Much more accessible are the extraordinary
review-style performances of the elegant all-female Takarazuka troop,
held at the Tokyo
Takarazuka Theatre, 1–1–3 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku
(tel: (03) 5251 2001), with transport from Yurakucho Station on
the Yamanote loop line.
International dance companies, varying from ballet to tango, regularly
include Tokyo on their itineraries. Performances are usually held
2–24–1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku (tel: (03) 3477 9999).
Butoh, an experimental, often times grotesque form of expressive
dance created in Japan in the 1960s, has a devoted following among
more avant-garde Japanese. Performances are held in various venues,
and schedules are published in the event sections of Metropolis
and Tokyo Journal.
Tokyo’s many cinemas are mainly
situated in Ginza, Shibuya, Shinjuku
and Ikebukuro. Foreign films are usually shown
in their original language and subtitled in Japanese. However, tickets
are costly and Hollywood releases usually lag months behind
other countries. The last show starts around 1900,
however there is sometimes a later show on weekends.
Daily news papers and event magazines publish listings of what’s
on. Mainstream cinemas include Hibiya Chanter Cinema,
1–2–2 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku (tel: (03) 3591 1511), and
Shibuya Tokyu Movie Theatre, Tokyu Bunka Kaikan,
2–21–12 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku (tel: (03) 3407 7029). Cinema
Rise is a good arts cinema, 13–17 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku
(tel: (03) 3464 0052).
Rather than written representations, Tokyo has always inspired strong
images, from the ‘ukiyo-e’ woodblock
prints of the Edo period to the films of the today. Juzo
Itami’s Tampopo (1986) and Yasujiro Ozu’s
Tokyo Story (1953) look at aspects of life in the city,
while Katsuhiro Otomo’s acclaimed Akira (1988)
is a sci-fi animation set in futuristic Tokyo. However, it is Ridley
Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) with which many Westerners
are most familiar. Actually set in a future Los Angeles and filmed
in Hollywood, the scenes of a dark, rainy, neon-studded cityscape
are for many an enduring image of Tokyo.
Japan’s traditional neighbourhood matsuri
(religious festivals) remain very
much a living tradition. Happy and good-naturedly boisterous, they
offer a very different look at the Japanese to that seen in an everyday
or business setting. Starting at the local shrine, mikoshi
(portable shrines) are paraded
down the streets by men, women and children adorned in festival
garb, accompanied by traditional music and dancing. Street stalls
sell trinkets, snacks, and copious amounts of beer. Held in neighbourhoods
all over Tokyo during the summer, the famous ‘big
three’ are the Kanda Matsuri
held in Kanda and the Sanja Matsuri
held in Asakusa, both take place in mid May, and the Sanno Matsuri held in Akasaka in mid June. With 1000's
of participants and several more spectators, these festivals are
lots of fun but can be incredibly crowded and exhausting.
April is the time for cherry blossom viewing and it seems that everyone
in Japan visits the city’s parks to picnic and enjoy the blossoms.
During August, traditional Bon-odori dances
are held underneath colourful lanterns to honour the spirits of
the ancestors. The fun, extravagant and very un-Japanese
Asakusa Samba Carnival is arranged by Brazilian–Japanese
returnees and is held annually in late August on
the streets of Asakusa. The annual Tokyo International Film
Festival takes place in late October/early November
2–24–1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku (tel: (03) 3477 9999),
and cinemas in the Shibuya area.
The 3 major sumo tournaments that are held annually
in Tokyo are major events, as is the baseball season,
which opens in April and runs through the summer
until the championships in October.
Meanwhile, Tokyo’s two giant trade fair venues host huge exhibitions
year round, among the best known being the annual Tokyo
Motor Show, which is usually takes place in late autumn.
boasts Japanese authors as diverse as Kenzaburo Oe,
1994 Nobel Laureate in Literature, and Banana
Yoshimoto, author of the cult novel Kitchen
the great ‘interpreter of Japan’, Lafcadio
Hearn – one of the first foreign residents
of Tokyo and from the foreign service wives of the 19th century,
who delighted in the cherry blossoms and the dainty manners of the
people – to Angela Carter, who pronounced
Tokyo ‘an exceedingly pleasant place in which to live’,
Tokyo has merited inclusion in many memoirs. These include the writings
of Aldous Huxley, William Faulkner, Jean
Cocteau and Charlie Chaplin.
Gibson’s novel, Idoru (1997), explores
Tokyo’s technological future, and the darker side of the city
is portrayed in Speed Tribes: Children of the Japanese Bubble
(1994) by Karl Taro Greenfeld.
Booker-shortlisted novel set in Tokyo is the amazing Number
9 Dream (2001) by David Mitchell.