Another year has been and gone and its ups and downs feel like a distant memory by now. But rather dwell on what was, let’s dive head-first into all the excitement that awaits. As the city gears up for the 2020 Olympics and a new Emperor arrives on the scene, 2019 is set to be a big year in Japan. While this is by no means the full list, here are ten milestones taking place in Japan that will most likely make our year slightly more memorable, more exciting and certainly busier.
1. The grand opening of Moomin Valley Park
This March, Japan’s favorite Finnish-hippo-esque creatures, the Moomins, will have their very own outpost, nestled in the foliage dense Hanno city, Saitama. Named Moomin Valley Park, the facility will be a family-friendly affair, with major attractions torn straight from the original storybooks. Expect recreations of the iconic Moomin lighthouse and quaint bathhouse on the pier, as well as a large a large exhibition facility Kokemus (Finnish for “experience”) covering all facets of the making of and stories about the Moomins. For all the up to date info, visit the Metsa Hanno website.
Opens: 16 March, 2019
Where: 327-6 Miyazawa, Hanno-shi, Saitama
2. Starbucks levels up with its Japan-first “Reserve Roastery”
Your caffeine hit is going to get a whole lot swankier thanks to the coffee company that needs no introduction. Starbucks announced they’ll be opening their Kengo Kuma-designed multi-level “Reserve Roastery” in the trendy neighborhood of Nakameguro, an area very familiar with the upmarket coffee culture.
Staffed with master roasters, mixologists and baristas, this will be the company’s fifth roastery in the world (and very first in Japan), with others located in Seattle, New York, Shanghai, and Milan. Regarding what exactly to expect, you may have to wait until its February opening for the full picture however, the roastery in Shanghai features a VR Willy Wonka Experience, so you can probably expect it to get a little experimental.
Date: 28 February, 2019
Where: Nakameguro, Aobadai 2-chome (along the Meguro River)
3. The grand reopening of Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art
Once home to works by names like Yoko Ono, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, the return of the Museum of Contemporary Art is without a doubt one of the most highly anticipated events on the 2019 art calendar.
The space has been out of action since May 2016 due to renovations, the first of its kind since opening back in 1995. To celebrate its makeover, the gallery will host two concurrent exhibitions, “Weavers of Worlds – A Century of Flux in Japanese Modern / Contemporary Art” and “Pleased to meet you. New Acquisitions in recent years” focusing on works acquired in recent years. Both exhibitions are intended to feel like a retrospective covering a comprehensive look at the most impressive works collected by the museum since its inception. The action all kicks off at the end of March 2019.
Dates: Opens in late March 2019. Exhibitions run from 29 March through 16 June, 2019
4. A new imperial era begins
© Photo by Getty Images
One of the most controversial pieces of royal news in the past few years was the impending abdication of Emperor Akihito. Initially announced in 2016, the 84-year-old emperor cited health worries and advanced age as the main reasons he believed he’d be unable to fulfill his Emperor-ly duties.
The abdication will take place on April 30, marking the end of the Heisei era. Crown Prince Naruhito’s ascent to the throne will officially begin on May 1, which will also mark the beginning of a new era on the Japanese calendar. The name of the new era will be announced to the public in advance, on April 1.
A few months later, on October 22, is when the enthronement ceremony and celebration parade will be held. Mark this historical date in your calendars — this might be the biggest and most important ceremony you’ll ever witness in Japan!
5. The Golden Week gets even better
Thanks to the upcoming emperor switch, the Japanese Parliament okayed that Golden Week — the string of national holidays that runs from late April until early May — be a full 10-day national holiday from April 27 until May 6.
Typically the way this period falls means that there are occasional days in between that aren’t technically all days off. This year though, even the most dedicated of workers can relax with the extra long break as there will be three additional public holidays added to the list, making it an uninterrupted whole 10-day holiday!
If you do plan on traveling during this time, do be wary that given the demand, it’s going to get crowded and very expensive, so it may be worth thinking up a few day trips or short mini-holiday destinations to pack in more relaxing and less crowd dodging. Or at the very least, book your ticket way in advance! If you’re wondering what the hottest destinations in Japan currently are, have a look at this ranking.
6. Japan’s first Muji Hotel opens in Ginza
Manga cafes, love hotels, robot staffed hotels, capsule hotels, ryokans, and everything in between, Tokyo is home to practically every type of hotel imaginable. Which is why it came at such a surprise that Muji, the country’s most famous anti-label brand, opened two Muji brand hotels in China before they opened one back home.
Finally, though, the wait is over — opening in spring, the soon to be Ginza-located Muji Hotel Tokyo is also going to be the brand’s debut world flagship store and home to an elegant Muji Diner. You can book a room from March.
Opens: April 2019
Where: Ginza 3-chome, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
7. Snoopy Museum reopens in Machida
Not to be outdone by the Moomin, Snoopy, arguably Japan’s most loved puppy is set to make a return after the massively popular Original Snoopy Museum in Roppongi shut its doors in September 2018. Located in Machida’s Minami-machida Grandberry Park, it’s set to open in Fall 2019. It’s still a little while away but promises to be worth the wait, as the museum will be roughly double the size of its predecessor and will feature plenty of exclusive collections of original items for collectors to nab in-store.
Date: Fall 2019
8. Japan’s first Rugby World Cup kicks off
Like a tasty little appetizer for the 2020 Olympics, the 2019 Rugby World Cup (RWC) is set to be a massive celebration of passion, excitement, and international unity through sport. The nation-wide event is set to permeate all inches of the country kicking off through 48 games in 12 cities from Sapporo up north to Oita Prefecture in the south from late September until early November.
If you haven’t yet, or it’s been a while, during the RWC would be an excellent time of year to visit Yokohama, which will host a bunch of big-name international matches — and the finals. For all the advice, guides and insider’s tips on when, where and how to enjoy the city, check out Japan Today’s Yokohama Rugby guide. A rugby fan or not, this will be a major international event for Japan and the entire sport and tourism industry, so plan to enjoy it while you can.
Date: Sep 20 – Nov 2, 2019
Donna Tartt’s mega-bestseller-turned-movie The Goldfinch, the live-action remake of Dumbo, and Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (starring Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu) (May 2019) are just two of the highly anticipated blockbusters to be hitting cinemas this 2019, setting a precedent for what promises to be a killer movie year.
In case you didn’t know, every Wednesday at most cinemas throughout the city is Ladies Night meaning that tickets are just ¥1,100 for women, so you can go again, and again, and again. Every first day of the month is also a movie discount day, and so are late shows every day after 8 p.m. Below are just a few of the many hits we’ll be watching this year:
- The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Jan 11*)
- Rebel in the Rye (Jan 18)
- Mary Poppins Returns (Feb 1)
- The Front Runner (Feb 1)
- First Man (Feb 8)
- The Favourite (Feb 15)
- A Simple Favor (March 8)
- Captain Marvel (March 15)
- On the Basis of Sex (March 22)
- Dumbo (March 29)
- Toy Story 4 (July 12)
- The Lion King (July 19)
*Release dates in Japan
10. Plenty of killer concerts too
With posters and billboards popping up throughout the city, it’s no secret that on February 25th Maroon 5 is coming to town, ready to blow a new hole in Tokyo Dome’s roof. But that’s just the beginning of what’s set to be a cracker year of international concerts.
Worth keeping an eye out — Australia’s most incredible indie success of late, Courtney Barnett, will be in town in to play Shibuya’s O-East in March. For those who like their rock and roll guitar-heavy, Slash will be playing Studio Coast in January. A few others to add to your diary: John Mayer is in town in April, Janet Jackson is here in February, as are Chvrches, Nickelback and Craig David. And a few more:
- Bobby Caldwell, Jan 18-Jan 23, Tokyo & Osaka
- Rita Ora, March 14-15, 2019, Tokyo
- Ringo Starr And His All Starr Band, End of March-early April, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Sendai, Fukushima, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka
- Ed Sheeran, April 9, April 23, Tokyo and Osaka
- Sarah Brightman, April 15-April 26, Nagoya, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Yokohama, Morioka, Osaka
What are the events you personally are looking forward to in 2019? Share with us in the comments below. We hope you’ll have an amazing year ahead!