Sanjaaaa!

ROUGH and ROWDY! Men and women yelling and chanting; musicians drumming on the taiko; wooden blocks clapping; whistles blowing; the crowd cheering; yakuza showing off their tattoos (in broad daylight!); men with no pants on… yes, that’s right, semi-naked guys. Hundreds of thousands of people took over the streets of downtown Asakusa over the weekend during the Sanja Matsuri, one of the biggest festivals in Tokyo.

This 3-day event has been going on for over 700 years, attracting people from all over the world who come to see mikoshi being jolted up and down, and backwards and forwards, through the narrow backstreets of Sensoji. The mikoshi, or portable shrines, are heaved up on the shoulders of men and women and paraded around from dawn til dusk. Of the 300+ mikoshi, there are 3 “main” ones. These guys weigh about a ton, or 1000 kg, equivalent to a small car… or an elephant! Sitting on four massive beams, they are carried by about 50 people at a time! Every now and then, the leaders force the mikoshi to suddenly change direction or go backwards, and the 30+ people carrying it at the back are caught off guard and start tripping over each other! The look on their faces, especially the women who are frantically trying not to get trampled, says it all… TERROR. The first-timers in the crowd gasp and hold their breath just waiting for the whole thing to topple over… but the veteran onlookers who’ve seen it a dozen times before just shout “危ない!” (watch out!), or  “頑張れ!” (you can do it!). Within a few seconds, the mikoshi regains stability, and the show goes on!

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the festival. I’d seen photos online and it looked pretty cool, but so do the million other festivals that happen every year in Japan! Well, I guess that’s the good thing about having low or no expectations, the actual experience can only be better! As soon as I came out of Asakusa Station, BAM! I walked straight into a sea of people. I’ve been to crowded festivals before, like the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, but for some reason it just felt like there was A LOT of people there. The traffic in the whole area was cut off, so people were free to roam the streets. Hundreds and hundreds of people were crowded around one mikoshi about to enter the shrine gates. Young and old were cheering and getting into it! And despite the amount of people, in typical Japanese style, there was no pushing and shoving. Leaving the main shrine area, it seemed like every corner I turned, there was a mikoshi with a crowd of followers, or some ritual event going on.  Also, it was bizarre and awesome at the same time, to see all the yakuza with their massive tattoos and weird hairstyles ‘getting amongst it’, when usually they are feared by the whole country!

All in all, it was a thoroughly entertaining festival!!

Dude, where’s my pants?!

Dude, where’s my pants?!

The musicians corner

The musicians corner

Sanja Matsuri

Sanja Matsuri

Mikoshi entering the shrine gate

Mikoshi entering the shrine gate

Nakamise Street leading up to Sensoji

Nakamise Street leading up to Sensoji

Senbei crackers on Nakamise Street. Yumm!

Senbei crackers on Nakamise Street. Yumm!

Food stalls around Sensoji

Food stalls around Sensoji

Just love the hair

Just love the hair

Great view for some lucky people!

Great view for some lucky people!

Shide (paper streamers) to purify the mikoshi

Shide (paper streamers) to purify the mikoshi

Little cuties drumming away!

Little cuties drumming away!

This photo is totally ‘Tokyo’ = Skytree, the Golden Poo, a festival!

This photo is totally ‘Tokyo’ = Skytree, the Golden Poo, a festival!

Musicians waiting for the main mikoshi to arrive

Musicians waiting for the main mikoshi to arrive

Waiting, waiting…

Waiting, waiting…

Shinto folk demon

Shinto folk demon

Special drum for mikoshi

Special drum for mikoshi

Here it comes!

Here it comes!

Poor ladies getting squashed!

Poor ladies getting squashed!

A short video I took:

Off it goes, into the night.

Off it goes, into the night.

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5 thoughts on “Sanjaaaa!

  1. I’m surprised there aren’t more photos of pants-less men! I want some fresh Senbei crackers. Cool photo of the Shinto folk demon

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  2. 浅草寺(せんそうじ)の 三社(さんしゃ)、一宮(いちのみや)、二宮(にのみや)、
    三宮(さんのみや)の おみこしは それぞれ 大きさが ちがいましたか。
    江戸時代(えどじだい)に 盛(さか)んに なった このお祭りは、
    東京の下町(したまち)の庶民(しょみん)が 作り出した 華(はな)やかな文化(ぶんか)
    ですね。白い鳥の踊(おど)りは 何のとりでしょうか。太鼓(たいこ)を たたいている
    男の子の姿(すがた)が とても 印象的(いんしょうてき)です。あの子は 浅草の下町で 
    生まれた 生粋(きっすい)の 江戸っ子(えどっこ)かも しれませんね。
    古い(ふるい)伝統(でんとう)を 守る(まもる)浅草から 超近代的(ちょうきんだいてき)なスカイツリーやゴールドーのビルが 遠くに(とおくに)みえます。
    昔(むかし)と 今が 共存(きょうぞん)する 東京は おもしろいですね。 

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    • 古い町を歩きながら、近代的なスカイツリーが見えたのは「すごい!」と感じました。東京は本当に珍しくて素晴らしいと思います。

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  3. Pingback: WPC – Chaos | Celia in Tokyo

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