Aus vs. Japan: Shows/Festivals

Of the things I love most about Japan, Matsuri (festivals) have to be up there at the top of the list!

Before moving to Tokyo, I lived in Nagoya for a couple of years. I was lucky enough to live close to Atsuta Jingu, one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan. I remember each year the build up to Atsuta Matsuri was so exciting. A few days before the festival would kick off, the stalls would start to appear, lanterns would be put up along the street and through the shrine, and the local community had a sense of anticipation, ready for the 250,000 visitors that would descend upon the area. At the festival, people dressed in summer yukata and had fun pigging out on yakiniku (meat skewers), butter potatoes, hot dogs, okonomiyaki (savory pancakes), and all those good festival foods! The main highlights were the parade and fireworks. Then, after the festival was all over, the lanterns would come down, the vendors would pack up and move to the next festival, and the place would return to its quiet, peaceful state.

It might be a bit strange, but actually festivals in Japan remind me a lot of “shows” back home in Australia. In my hometown we would see the stalls and rides getting set up in the showgrounds in the days before the show started. Kicking off the event was always some sort of parade, usually musicians and hand-decorated floats. A big part of the show were the ‘pavilions’ where you could see art and craft exhibits, buy showbags, visit the animal nursery, and lots more. During the day, we’d watch the horse jumping, dog shows or wood chopping competitions. At night, after meeting up with our friends we’d check out the sideshow alley and have a go at the ‘laughing clowns’, ‘shooting alley’ or ‘bust-a-balloon’ before hitting the big rides! Then we’d find a seat in the grandstand and enjoy the fireworks!

Both in Japan and Australia, there are hundreds of shows/festivals every year. The dates differ for each town or city, and the stalls and rides often follow the circuit, moving from town to town. One thing that really stands out for me is the ‘atmosphere’ at both shows and festivals. Even though both cultures are very different, the purpose is still the same. These events are always fun, light-hearted, energetic, and everyone is there to have a good time! 

But, one thing Aussie shows don’t have that Japanese festivals do, is a long-standing history and traditional culture. For me, one of the most impressive and memorable things about seeing a matsuri is witnessing customs that have lasted for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years!

Have you been to any shows or festivals (or fairs or carnivals!)?
What was the best thing about them?

✰ Australian Shows ✰

✰ Japanese Matsuri ✰ 

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.