Sanja Matsuri is one of the three main traditional shinto festivals of Tokyo. Held in Asakusa on the third week-end of May every year, it starts with a religious ceremony on thursday but the festivies only begin on friday and go on for three days.
Usually packed with tourists, Asakusa seems out of place in the modern Tokyo with its red lanterns, its small souvenirs shops with their old-fashioned tiles and lion ornements and of course the Sensoji, oldest temple in Tokyo. But during the three days of festival Asakusa becomes the center of the city. Hundreds of locals rush here to celebrate the three divinities who founded the Sensoji with dances, music and parades. On saturday the hundred of mikoshi (portable shrines, each representing its district) are energically carried to Asakusa jinja (a small shrine behind the Sensoji) to be blessed and purified for the year. Whereas sunday is the culminating point and main event of the festival: the three main mikoshi leave the shrine to visit and bless all of Asakusa districts.
With its colorful crowd, cheers and its lot of japanese butt cheeks (some men come in traditional outfit: a top and a fundoshi, a japanese underwear which only hides, well, their front part) Sanja Matsuri has this unique out-of-time atmosphere only a japanese festival can gives out.
Enjoy your matsuri:
- Take a bottle of water with you: May can be quite hot in Japan and they are few to no distributors in the area.
- Go early: you’ll be able to appreciate Asakusa in its preparations for the festival, have a close look at the mikoshi displayed in the streets on saturday, and even find your spot to watch the parades before it is too crowded to do so.
- The crossroads on Nakamise street just before the Hazômon (the second gate) is a good place to get close to the corteges when the surrounding of the Sensoji are overcrowded and almost inaccessible.
- Have some rest and refreshment at the traditional food stands located on the streets in-between the Sensoji and the pagoda.