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Sumida River Fireworks Festival
Every summer Japan prepares for the numerous fireworks (hanabi) festivals held throughout the nation. The biggest of these is the display over the Sumida River, which is a major event on the cultural calendar of Tokyo, with spectacular multicoloured layers that blossom into the night sky to awe the millions of spectators gathered along the banks or in boats on the river. Many dress in traditional kimono and festival wear for the occasion and although the display is scheduled to end at 8.30pm the festivities run on late into the night. The highlight of the display is a dazzling competition between highly acclaimed fireworks manufacturers. The element of competition makes the display all the more exciting because the rivalry between the different pyrotechnics groups is fierce and the event is an important showcase for them - as each group tries to outdo the others the spectators gasp at all the beautiful lights and patterns. One of the best ways to experience the event is to go cruising on the river and enjoy the display from the water before partying the night away onboard. For more information contact the Fireworks Office on +81 (0)3 5246 1111.
Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival
Heralding the beginning of spring, cherry trees burst into a riot of pink and white blossoms all over Japan and the spectacle is so lovely that this is the most popular time to visit the country. Tokyo attracts thousands of holidaymakers daily for cherry blossom viewing (hanami). The cherry blossom, or Sakura, is Japan's national flower and a symbol of the country. For many years, the Japanese people have celebrated the cherry blossom season every year, which depends on the local conditions, but usually starts in Okinawa in January, reaching Kyoto and Tokyo in late March to early April, and Hokkaido in late May. They celebrate this popular festival with hanami parties under the trees with picnics, drinking, singing and dancing. Street stalls are set up and musicians serenade the merry picnickers, many of whom are decked out in outrageous costumes and masks. Ueno Park is Tokyo's most beautiful spot for hanami parties and it is particularly romantic to enjoy the riot of pink and white from a paddle boat on the water. The Cherry Blossom Festival is a big draw for tourists who want to see Japan at its most beautiful and vibrant. For more information contact the Tokyo Tourist Information Centre on (0)3 5321 3077.
The Sanja Matsuri or Sanja Festival is the biggest of Tokyo's three great festivals, along with the Kanda Festival and Sanno Festival, which alternate every year. During the annual festival thousands of frenzied devotees gather for traditional portable shrine processions, ancient ritual music and dancing, and other festivities. The processions are in honour of the three resident deities of the Asakusa Shrine, who are paraded through the streets in huge, elaborately decorated mikoshi or portable shrines carried on the shoulders of dozens of strong men dressed in traditional festival clothing, and surrounded by chanting worshippers. Up to 100 other mikoshi are carried around in processions meant to bring blessings and good luck to the area and its inhabitants. About two million people visit Asakusa to pay tribute and celebrate over the three days of the festival. The district is packed with food stalls, festival games, music and dancing. The festivities begin with the Friday afternoon Daigyoretsu Parade, a large procession of priests, officials, geisha, musicians and dancers wearing traditional Edo-period costumes. For more information contact the Tourist Information Centre on +81 (03) 3201 3331.
Japanese F1 Grand Prix
The Japanese Grand Prix usually falls towards the end of the Formula One season and has over the years provided much excitement, and often been the track to crown the season's champion. 13 World Champions have been crowned at the Japanese event. The Fuji Speedway hosted the first two Japanese Grand Prix in 1976 and 1977 before the country was taken off the F1 calendar. When it was reinstated in 1987 it was at the Suzuka track, which hosted it with great success for the next 20 years and fast gained a reputation as one of the most challenging F1 circuits. The two circuits alternated hosting the event until the Fuji Speedway announced it would not be hosting the 2010 race due to the recession. The Suzuka track now holds the event exclusively. The Japanese Grand Prix is very well-supported by locals and foreigners alike and, like all the races, is extremely thrilling for spectators. Many F1 fans travel around the world to attend races and the atmosphere is festive; if a World Champion is crowned the ceremony adds extra excitement and there are raucous after-parties to enjoy.
Great Japan Beer Festival
Contrary to popular belief, the Japanese drink more than just Sake and rice wine. Beer is also highly popular and the city of Sapporo in Hokkaido is famed for its brews. Many of these are available at Tokyo's Great Japan Beer Festival each year where more than 120 local and international craft brews can be sampled. Tickets cost approximately ¥4,300 and the event is fun and festive, with some great brews to enjoy. Japan hosts multiple beer festivals and a number of cities compete with Tokyo to throw the biggest party, although the capital has so far been the most popular, with about 5,500 enthusiasts attending Tokyo's Great Japan Beer Festival in 2012. In 2013 Osaka holds its beer festival between the 13 and 15 July; Nagoya hosts the festival on the 3 and 4 August; and Yokohama will celebrate between the 14 and 16 July. The Japanese Craft Beer Association throws a number of other exciting beer tastings and competitions every year. For details on these events see the association's official website listed below.
Tokyo International Film Festival
Each year the Tokyo International Film Festival exclusively screens new and exciting films in cinemas around Roppongi Hills. Film buffs can enjoy world premieres by some of Japan's top directors and filmmakers from all over the world as well as voting for their favourite film in the Audience Choice category. The festival was established in 1985 and was held twice annually until 1991 and annually thereafter. It is one of Asia's most famous and competitive film festivals and is accredited by the FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producers). The Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix award is handed to the winner of best film, and other categories like best actor, best actress and best director are also judged. Recent winners have included French, Israeli and Bulgarian films, and famous actresses honoured at the festival include Helena Bonham Carter, Abigail Breslin and Glen Close. The festival includes conventional screenings, fun open-air cinema, screenings with voice-overs, social occasions and celebrity appearances, as well as lectures, seminars and workshops. There is lots to learn and lots to enjoy for movie enthusiasts.