The Vietnam Festival, held annually in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park, is an exciting and delicious slice of Southeast Asian life. Like the other summer international festivals held at the park, this event provides a wealth of exotic foods, drinks, and entertainment, but this one has quickly become a crowd favorite. The first Vietnam Festival was held here in 2008, but in a few short years it packed in over 150,000 visitors (at the 2011 event), establishing itself as a major event on the summer international festival circuit at Yoyogi.
This festival is all about bustle. Visitors will quickly be impressed by its size and number of vendors selling, cooking, and entertaining. Everywhere, people are milling about in T-shirts featuring the Vietnamese flag design, and wearing nón lá, the Vietnamese name for the conical-shaped hat that the country is famous for. Performances are all over, and not limited to the main event stage.
The food, of course, is inescapable. There are rows and rows of Vietnamese food vendors sending delicious smells wafting through the air. Beyond the expected plethora of pho, there are plenty of places to score a bánh mì, the Vietnamese name for a baguette, which is often filled sandwich-style with grilled meats and served in a Vietnamese newspaper wrapping. There are plenty of lesser-known regional foods as well. I came across some cao lầu, a dish unique to central Vietnam, which was a delicious bowl of noodles, pork, and greens topped with a chili sauce. Vietnamese beer was also plentiful, especially Saigon Beer and its famous 333 brand.
The event stage schedule was packed with performer after performer after performer. The 2013 lineup included a wide variety of singers and dancers, a funky jazz band that included some traditional Vietnamese instruments, a rock band, and a contortionist who didn't seem to have any bones in her body.
There were also a nice collection of cultural displays at the festival. There were two tents filled with beautiful paintings displaying the diversity of the Vietnamese landscape, and tents displaying beautiful historic artifacts and crafts. There was a clear effort to educate people about the intricacies of Vietnam's culture.
Lines of vendors sold a variety of products from clothing to jewelry to musical instruments. There were also places ready to teach about and sell vacation packages.
There is a lively vibe and plenty to do, making this a high priority on your summer festival calendar.
The Vietnam Festival is held in mid-September. Entrance is free. It is held in the event square near the permanent stage in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park, near the NHK building. It is about a 5 minute walk from Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote Line) or Meijijingumae Station (Chiyoda Line), and a 10 minute walk from Yoyogi-hachiman Station (Odakyu Line).