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Sanja Matsuri is a symbolic festival held every year on the third weekend of May. This year, it is held from May 16 to 18.

As one of the biggest festivals of mikoshi, the festival is celebrating the three founders of Asakusa Kannon Temple, better known as Sensoji Temple. It is held in the Asakusa district, one of the areas in Tokyo still surrounded by old streets and traditional Japanese houses.

Sensoji Temple in Asakusa

Every year, hundreds of thousands of spectators visit Asakusa during the three festival days. With amazing vigor, men carry several dozens of portable shrines on their shoulders. There are also portable shrines carried by women only, and by children only. The most exciting moments are when the portable shrines are jolted vehemently, for this jolting is believed to intensify the power of the deities mounted on the portable shrines.

A portable shrine is being carried during the procession

Sanja Matsuri, which is one of the Three Great Festivals of EDO (now Tokyo), is held on the third Saturday and Sunday every May by the Ujiko ( inhabitants of the neighbouring community) at Asakusa Shirne (previously called “SANJA Daigongen Shrine” ),sacred to the tutelary deity of the locality ,Asakusa. Although the festival seems to date from older times, the presentday from of the festival was established in the Edo period (1603-1868). The parade of the portable shrines is conducted primarily for the mutual amity of the Ujiko and he prosperity of the community but also enjoyed by people other than the Ujiko.

Street vendor in Japanese traditional costume

Friday’s activities

The Friday parade, which gets underway around 1 PM in the afternoon is a must see. There are amazing floats with musicians on board that are playing flutes and drums. The costumes are elaborate and include geisha, heron hooded dancers, and even city officials wearing hakama (traditional Japanese clothing). Participants are dressed in traditional Japanese clothing too, performing festival dances while parading down the 19 blocks from Yanagi-dori to Asakusa Shrine.

Floats with musicians on board

That evening, mikoshi from the most central neighborhoods parade through the streets on the shoulders of several dozen people.

A woman in Heron Costume

Saturday’s activities

On Saturday around 12 AM (noon), there is a gathering of small and large portable shrines at Asakusa Shrine. From there the parade starts heading through the town streets. Around 100 mikoshi from the 44 Asakusa districts gather at the Kaminarimon. They are then paraded through Nakamise-dōri where they will stop and pay their respects to Kannon at the Hozomon. The mikoshi are then carried to the Asakusa Shrine so the Shinto priests can bless them for the next year. When the ceremony is done, they are taken back to their respective neighborhoods.

Portable shrines gathered at Asakusa Shrine

Sunday’s activities

On the Sunday, which is the final day of the festival, the events begin at 6:00 AM. Grouped by their neighborhoods, hundreds of revelers wearing matching festive garbs gather at the Asakusa Shrine where they vie to carry one of the three main mikoshi (portable shrines). The groups are extremely competitive jostling it out to see who will get the honors of carrying the mikoshi. During this part of the festival, because of concerns for space and safety, spectators are not allowed to go beyond the Sensoji entrance gates.

The main mikoshi parading

Event Details

Date: May 16-18 2014
Time: May 17 from 1pm; May 18 from 10am; May 19 from 6am
Venue: Asakusa Shrine
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Transport: Asakusa Station (Ginza, Toei Asakusa, Tobu Isesaki lines)

Way leading to Sensoji Temple

Asakusa Sanja Matsuri Preview

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