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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sanja Matsuri 2016 Asakusa Tokyo


Today was the second day of the massive, annual, 3-day Sanja Matsuri festival in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Bearing a golden mikoshi shrine, Sanja Matsuri 2016 in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Shrine bearers giving it their all at the Sanja Matsuri 2016

Close-up of shrine bearers at Sanja Matsuri 2016, Tokyo.
Camaraderie at the Sanja Matsuri 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo. 

The Sanja Matsuri (literally "three shrine festival") is associated with Sensoji Temple, or, more accurately, with the Shinto shrine that forms part of the Sensoji Temple. The shrine venerates the founders of what is said to be Tokyo's oldest temple (over 1,200 years), and the Sanja Matsuri likewise celebrates them.

Children's fife and drum float, Sanja Matsuri, 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo.
Children's fife and drum float, Sanja Matsuri, 2016, with Tokyo Skytree in background.
Today being the second day, over 100 mikoshi portable shrines were paraded down the main street of Asakusa, each representing one of the dozens of districts that make up the Asakusa area. The parade down the streets is actually the last - if most publicly visible - stage of the ceremony. To begin with, they are borne down the long Nakamise-dori alleyway flanked by stalls that leads up to Sensoji Temple, then are taken to the adjacent Asakusa Shrine where they are blessed by a Shinto priest. They then return to their respective neighborhoods with every bit as much enthusiasm as they set out.

Some senior members of the Sanja Matsuri procession, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Senior participants at the Sanja Matsuri procession, 2016 - Kaminarimon Gate of temple in background.
Enthusiasm is the Sanja Matsuri's keyword. The air crackles with it. Drums bang and fifes toot, and the voices of the shrine bearers are raised in rhythmic unison as they shoulder the poles on which the shrine rides, and the buoyant crowd, merging with the edges of the procession buzzes with excitement.

Omikoshi shrine with Kaminarimon Gate of Asakusa Temple in background.
Ornate mikoshi shrine in front of Kaminarimon Gate of Asakusa Temple, Sanja Matsuri 2016.
One very distinctive aspect of the Sanja Matsuri more in evidence on the third day than the second is how the shrines are rocked and jostled by those carrying them. Sunday, the third day, is when the Shrine's own three mikoshi are paraded, and they are the focus of an extraordinary outpouring of energy and noise that has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Shrine bearers shouldering a shrine at the Sanja Matsuri 2016.
Gambatte! Shrine bearers giving it their all at the Sanja Matsuri 2016.
Yet, in spite of all the boisterousness, the massive crowds gathered to watch are essentially calm, polite and considerate of each other. The great numbers of children present - both participating and watching - attest to the inclusiveness and warm community spirit of the Sanja Festival - in spite of its sometimes fearsome reputation (somewhat sensationally painted so at times simply because of the conspicuous presence of yakuza gangsters at Sanja Matsuris in the past among those taking part).

Children with a neighborhood float at the Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Children with a festive drum and fife float at the 2016 Sanja Matsuri.

Depending on the weather, I may well go to Asakusa again tomorrow for the climactic third day of the Sanja Matsuri. If so, more coverage on the way!

A view from behind of a fundoshi at the Sanja Matsuri, 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Fundoshi-clad participants at the Sanja Matsuri 2016

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