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Sanja Matsuri 2019 – Enjoy Biggest Traditional Revelry in Asakusa!

Miwa

Writer

The Sanja Matsuri is famous for the boisterous procession, which takes place in May in Asakusa. It is one of the most popular tourist spots in Tokyo.

The Asakusa Shrine next to the Sensoji Temple hosts this festival and attracts over 1.5 million people every year. Festival starts from Friday near the 17th of May, and a variety of rituals are conducted during three days until Sunday. The highlight of this festival is a procession of Mikoshi or portable shrines on Saturday and Sunday.

You’ll be excited with powerful sounds and people with gorgeous tattoos. Also, I suggest you try festival food in various yatai. This will definitely add some spice to your visit!


Contents

1. About Sanja Matsuri

– The 1st Day

-The 2nd Day

-The 3rd Day

2. A Story of the Sensoji Temple and the Asakusa Shrine

3. Nakamise Shopping Street in Asakusa

4. Other Things to do Around Asakusa

-Tokyo Skytree

-Sumida Aquarium

-Hanayashiki

5.Details and Access

6. Closing Remarks

 

 

 About Sanja Matsuri

The 1st day (Friday)

Daigyoretsu Parade

From 1 pm, you will notice people including priests, city officials, geisha, musicians and dancers wearing Edo Period costumes.  The procession slowly moves through the town of Asakusa creating festive and traditional atmosphere.

Binzasara Mai (びんざさら舞)

Binzasara Mai is a traditional ritual dance, which is designated as a significant intangible folk cultural property. It is offered to deities in the main building of the shrine (Shaden) from 2:20 pm, and also in the Kagura hall (Kaguraden) from 3 pm, wishing for a great harvest, business success, and family prosperity.

*Kagura: ritual music and dance

The 2nd Day (Saturday)

Local Mikoshi Procession

About 100 portable shrines (Mikoshi) from 44 local towns gather at the backyard of the Sensoji Temple around noon. After being given purification at the Asakusa Shrine, each portable shrine leaves for each town one by one. They roughly upheave and shake portable shrines to intensify the power of the deities.

Many townspeople without distinction of age and gender join the procession and carry their town’s portable shrines because this festival is the most important event to feel communication and unity of the city. You can enjoy seeing mighty procession with merry sounds and various kinds of traditional costumes.

The 3rd Day (Sunday)

Three Sacred Mikoshi Procession

This is the grand spectacle, and boisterous atmosphere dominates the whole town of Asakusa.

Three sacred Mikoshi come out of the Asakusa Shrine around 6 in the morning and travel through local towns throughout a day. The ritual dance and music along with some other events are held in and around the Asakusa Shrine until three Mikoshi come back to shrine around 8 in the evening.

The street in front of Kaminarimon* is opened for pedestrians, so you can enjoy a slow walk in the heart of Tokyo.

*Kaminarimon means the thunder gate.

 

A Story of the Sensoji Temple and the Asakusa Shrine

In Japan, there are two different religions: Shinto as the indigenous religion based on nature worship, and Buddhism as an imported religion. After Buddhism came from China in the 6th Century, Shinto and Buddhism gradually syncretized until the late 19th century when the government implied the policy to separate Shinto and Buddhism.

The history of the Sensoji Temple dates back to 628. Two fisherman brothers found a statue of Kannon Bodhisattva in the Sumida River. Then, a wealthy landlord – Hoji no Nakatomo transformed his house into Buddhist temple to worship this statue.

Later, the descendant of Hoji no Nakatomo received a divine message from Kannon Bodhisattva in a dream. They built the Asakusa Shrine to worship Hoji no Nakatomo and two fisherman brothers as Shinto deities. Three shrine Mikoshi are the palanquins of these three deities.

Since then the Sensoji Temple and the Asakusa Shrine existed as one united body. They started the Sanja festival for three deities to offer the opportunity to stay overnight with Kannon Bodhisattva and show them around the local towns of Asakusa once a year.

Nowadays,  Sanja festival is hosted by the Asakusa Shrine as Buddhist temple was separated in the 19th century.


Nakamise Shopping Street in Asakusa

Nakamise is one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan. After Tokugawa Shogun, Ieyasu established Edo Shogunate in the early 17th century. The population of Edo (old name of Tokyo) remarkably grew, and the Sensoji temple received many visitors. Nakamise has flourished together with the Sensoji Temple, and it is one of the most popular sightseeing places in Tokyo now.

Shopping street stretches out for about 250 meters starting from Kaminarimon – the landmark of Asakusa, to the Sensoji Temple. There are 89 shops on both sides of the street. I’m sure you will find something nice as a souvenir.


Other Things to do Around Asakusa

Tokyo Skytree

It is the tallest structure in Japan with its height of 634 meters, and the second highest building in the world. It became a landmark in Tokyo, so you should visit there to see the magnificent view from this tower.

Sumida Aquarium

At Sumida Aquarium, which is in the shopping mall (Soramachi) in the Tokyo Skytree, you can enjoy seeing a beautiful display of fishes with your friends or family. Why don’t you visit here to have a break, after you attend the Sanja festival?

Hanayashiki

It is the oldest amusement park in Japan and in Tokyo. So, it is easier to visit compared to other amusement parks, such as Tokyo Disney Land or Universal Studios Japan.


Details and Access

Dates: May 17th – 19th, 2019

Place: Asakusa Shrinegrounds of Sensoji Temple

Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taitō-ku, Tokyo

Official website (Japanese only): https://www.asakusajinja.jp/sanjamatsuri/

Access:

From Tokyo Station

Get on the JR Yamanote Line to Kanda Station, then transfer to the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line to get to Asakusa Station. After 5 ~ 10 minutes walk, you will reach Asakusa Shrine.

From Shinjuku Station

Get on the JR Chuo Line to Kanda Station, then transfer to the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line to get to Asakusa Station. If you walk for 5 ~ 10 minutes, you will reach Asakusa Shrine.

 

 

Closing Remarks

I would say that Sanja Matsuri is a benchmark for a traditional Japanese festival. Here you will see almost everything that a true festival features in Japan. If you happen to be in Tokyo in May, please don’t miss this outstanding event! I am sure that you will get a proper dose of Japanese culture on the weekend in the middle of May in Asakusa!

With a local guide, your visit to Sensoji Temple will be even more rewarding. If you would like to explore this festival and Tokyo in general with a friendly local guide, please check the banner below!

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Here`s the link. URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/2566/ 

Kyoto has many beautiful spots to see Cherry blossoms. However, other areas also have excellent places for hanami. Tokyo features many of those spots as well! If you are in Tokyo around spring and looking for a place to see cherry blossoms, Why don’t you check the following article?

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Miwa

I'm an English speaking tour guide in Kyoto. You can enjoy a variety of events in each region throughout a year. I hope to see you soon.

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