posted on Thursday, May 21, 2015

Sanja Matsuri

Last week I got a chance to see Sanja Matsuri, the largest festival of the year in Tokyo, taking place around the streets of Asakusa.  Like many Japanese festivals, Sanja Matsuri is a religious celebration. It is a weekend-long Shinto festival dedicated to three men. The story goes that two fishermen brothers found a statuette of the Bodhisattva Kannon caught in a fishing net in the Sumida River on 628. The third man, a wealthy landlord, heard about the discovery, approached the brothers and converted them to Buddhism. The three men then devoted their lives to Buddhism and consecrated the statue in a small temple. The temple known today as Sensō-ji, houses the Kannon statue and is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
Sanja Matsuri is mostly a festival of celebration. The atmosphere around Asakusa during the weekend of the festival is charged and energetic. People flood the streets surrounding Sensō-ji and flutes, whistles, chanting and taiko can be heard throughout.
The festival's main attractions are three Asakusa Shrine-owned Mikoshi that appear on the third and final day of the festival. Elaborate, black lacquered-wood shrines are built to act as miniature, portable versions of Asakusa Shrine. They are decorated with gold sculptures and painted with gold leaf, and each Mikoshi weighs approximately one ton and cost almost half a million dollars to construct.They are carried on four long poles lashed together with ropes, and each needs approximately 40 people dispersed evenly to safely carry them. Throughout the day, a total of about 500 people participate in carrying each shrine. 
Luckily I was there on the third and final day to witness the spectacle and soak the atmosphere. The Mikoshi are carried with energy and bounced up and down as they parade the street in order to increase their power to bestow good luck to the neighbourhood.