If you are planning a vacation to Tokyo during May, you just may be in luck to take in the Asakusa Sanja Matsuri festival, which takes place over the third weekend of this month. This is definitely a Shinto festival you don’t want to miss, since its one of the wildest festivals in Tokyo.
The sanja matsuri attracts around 2 million locals visiting Asakusa over the 3 days of the festival.
During the festival, Asakusa is full of exciting traditional activities like Geisha performances, unique festival games, Japanese food stalls, and the Japanese drums and flutes creating a lively atmosphere for all to enjoy.
Expect huge parades with mikoshi (portable shrines) carrying the Shinto Gods which are believed to bring good fortune to residents and local business.
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The main focus is on the three large mikoshi from the Asakusa Shrine that appear on the Sunday. You will also see smaller neighborhood mikoshi amongst the streets of Asakusa during the festival.
This is quite the sight to watch. With an incredible amount of vigor men can be seen carrying dozens of portable shrines on their shoulders. There are also portable shrines carried by women and ones for children too.
One of the most exciting traditions of sanja matsuri Japan is when these portable shrines are intensely jolted. This action is believed to strengthen the power of the deities that are mounted on these portable shrines.
Friday Asakusa Sanja Matsuri Events in Tokyo
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.
That evening, mikoshi from the most central neighborhoods parade through the streets on the shoulders of several dozen people.
Saturday Sanja Matsuri Events
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.
Sunday Sanja Matsuri Events
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 mikoshi each go off in a different direction and are paraded through the district. By the time evening comes they will have visited all the streets and neighborhoods of Asakusa, where there are still traditional houses and streets. They return to the Asakusa Shrine around 8 PM.
Once the troupe arrives at the Asakusa Shrine, you can watch the amazing performance of the Binzasara Mai, which is a dance-pray asking for abundant harvest and prosperity of one’s descendants. The performers are dressed in wonderful costumes while they hold binzasara, which are musical instruments that are made of bamboo strips, which have been strung together.
This is a highly charged festival and very energetic. There are constantly people flooding the street. The whistles, flutes, taiko (Japanese drums) and chanting are continuous and can be heard all through the district.
Other Asakusa Sanja Matsuri Events
Along with the traditional events, Sanja Matsuri Japan has many other popular events going on. There are hundreds of stalls that are worth a visit, small food stands, Geisha performances and more, so be sure to check the current schedule.
Getting there: Asakusa, Tokyo