Vibrant festival in Asakusa: Sanja Matsuri (Tokyo)
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Sensoji (temple) is a must-see place for most tourists who comes from abroad to visit Tokyo. Once a year, the most energetic, vibrant festival in Tokyo called Sanja Matsuri takes place here. Sensoji enshrines a statue of Buddha that was found in the Sumida river in the year 628.
(Source：gandhi / PIXTA）
Standing next to Sensoji is Asakusa Shrine which enshrines the fishermen brothers as deities who found the statue of Buddha. This shrine is also called Sanja-sama because it enshrines three gods: two brothers and a sage who discerned this Buddha statue to be valuable. That’s where the name “Sanja Matsuri” comes from. In fact, Sensoji and Asakusa Shrine are strongly connected in history!
In this festival, you can observe authentic Japanese ceremonies and parades. Yet the highlight of this festival is the mikoshi (decorated portable shrines) parade during which bearers carry the mikoshi around and occasionally jostle with each other. A long time ago, when Tokyo was still called Edo, it was common for a festival to turn into a street fight. In this festival, you can still see how people of Edo used to passionately celebrate festivals. As a result, Asakusa takes on a vibrant, engaging atmosphere during Sanja Matsuri. In these three days, 1.85 million people visit here. If you are thinking about participating in this festival, please be safe and stay together with your family and friends.
1. Enjoy the beautiful authentic parade
Although Sanja Matsuri is known for the wild mikoshi parades, it starts with a quiet dignified ceremony on the first day. A Daigyoretsu (large procession) takes place on the streets. This is followed by “Ohayashi”musicians who play flutes and drums. Then comes the beautiful heron-hooded dancers, dancing “the dance of the heron” as they walk through the streets of Asakusa.
In the parade, “Binzasara Dance,” a traditional dance, has been performed to pray for a good harvest since a long time. It is considered as an intangible cultural property designated by Tokyo city.
2. You can see mikoshi one day earlier in “Yomiya”
The main mikoshi parade takes place on Saturday and Sunday. If you won’t be able to come to Asakusa on the weekend, you can take a look on the famous mikoshi during Yomiya, which starts at 17:30 on Friday, the first day of the festival! The place is animated by many locals who wish to take a first look of mikoshi in Yomiya! It is also the only day when you can see a mikoshi parade in the evening.
3. More than 100 mikoshi in Asakusa: Local mikoshi procession
On the second day of the festival, the local mikoshi depart to parade around the city. More than 100 big and small mikoshi, that come from more than 40 cities, walk around the crowded areas of Asakusa after being purified at Asakusa Shrine. Since each group of mikoshi bearers try to show that their mikoshi is the best, they are very competitive! It is such a dynamic show that sometimes ends up in street fights.
Mikoshi parade around the city with festive music. Therefore, the area gets quite animated. You can wait at Asakusa Shrine where the mikoshi parade starts. Some people, however, enjoy walking along with mikoshi that they like. It feels like you are participating in the festival! Each group is composed differently. Some mikoshi groups are composed of brave men. Meanwhile, other mikoshi groups are mixed or women’s only. You will enjoy looking at different mikoshi performances!
4. A true Japanese festival: bearers jostle to carry the mikoshi during the Main Procession.
On the third day of Sanja Matsuri, the main event of the festival, i.e., the Main Procession takes place. “Miyadashi” is a spiritual event when three mikoshi leave Asakusa Shrine. Since it is a great honor to carry these three mikoshi, many people jostle to carry them. The large crowd of people try to take the few places available to carry mikoshi. No wonder things get out of hand!
Even if you can get a place near the carrying bar of mikoshi, other carriers gather around to take your place. That’s how mikoshi are taken out of the shrine. Although mikoshi are supposed to be a precious thing that carry gods, with all the drama, it looks as if it might break! On top of that, they are not safe even after they leave Sensoji and enter the streets, because people gather, and try to hold mikoshi there too. Everyone – bearers and gods – walk around the city together while cheering loudly. This is how a true Edo (ancient Tokyo) festival looks like!
After parading around the city, the mikoshi are brought back to Asakusa Shine. It is called “Miyairi,” a ceremony when gods return to the shrine from the mikoshi. With this ceremony, Sanja Matsuri ends at Asakusa Shrine.
5. When you speak of Japanese festivals, street stalls come to mind!
During Sanja Matsuri, many street stalls are opened. From Kaminarimon to Umamichi street, a special “Matsuri Plaza” is created on the last day of festival with many street stalls. If you want to try all the street food available in Japan, you should come here on this day!
The festival is organized over three days on the nearest weekend to 17th, 18th of May each year. In 2017, it is from May 19-21.
*May 19 (Fri)
Daigyoretsu (Large procession)
Binzasara dance performance
Ceremony to relocate the Gods
*May 20 (Sat)
Local Mikoshi Procession
*May 21 (Sun)
If you get tired of the vibrancy, you can take a 20-min walk from Kaminarimon to Tokyo Skytree! It is the world’s tallest freestanding broadcast tower. It costs 2,060 yen to go up to the Tembo deck, situated at 350 m above sea level.
While enjoying the great view, you can also relax at a cafe or restaurant and look around the shop. On top of that, there is a transparent floor made of strong glass through which you can see all the way down. It will make your legs tremble.
The best part of Tokyo Skytree is the view from the Tembo Galleria, located 100 m above the Tembo deck. It costs 1,030 yen to reach the Tembo Galleria. After a short elevator ride, a breathtaking view of the Kanto area from 450 m is waiting for you! The Tembo Galleria looks very cool like a space ship.
Address：1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida, Tokyo（東京都墨田区押上1-1-2）
Opening Hours：8:00 – 22:00 (Last entry at 21:00)
Holidays：Open all year round
This restaurant serves the same tempura donburi (rice topped with deep-fried food) since it was first founded. It is one of the specialties of Asakusa that many people love. Tempura is deep-fried only using sesame oil. Therefore, it has a great smell and is healthy. Main sure to be prepared to stand in a long queue during lunch time!
Address：1-38-10 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo（東京都台東区浅草1-38-10）
Opening Hours：11:00 – 20:30 (Saturday and Holiday 11:00 – 21:00)
Holidays：Open all year round
Asakusa Menchi is a famous shop so much so that people come to Asakusa just to eat here! Its menchi-katsu, deep fried hamburger, which is super juicy when you take a bite. It is made of a mixture of famous pork and beef.
(Source：Akiba Deep Travel）
Address：2-3-3 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo（東京都台東区浅草2-3-3）
Holidays：Open all year round
◆Khaosan World Asakusa Ryokan & Hostel
Even though you don’t want to spend so much money on accommodation, yet you wish to stay in a Japanese-style hotel, then Khaosan World Asakusa Ryokan & Hostel is highly recommended. There are various types of rooms available, including private rooms and 6 bed-dormitory rooms. Since all rooms are decorated in a Japanese style, it is a popular hotel among foreign tourists. Although meals aren’t included, there is a shared lounge and kitchen that you can use. It would be great to share moments with fellow travelers.
Khaosan World Asakusa Ryokan & Hostel（カオサンワールド浅草旅館&ホステル）
Address：3-15-1 Nishi-Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo（東京都台東区西浅草3-15-1）
Few minutes walk from Asakusa Station, Shigetsu is the best place to watch Sanja Matsuri. It is a Japanese traditional-style hotel, where you can have a quiet stay. From the big bath on the 6th floor, you can take a bath with a view of the Skytree, the new landmark of Tokyo. It’s the best hotel to stay if you want to enjoy a Japanese ambiance!
Address：1-31-11 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo（東京都台東区浅草1-31-11）
The street from Kaminarimon to Sensoji is called Nakamise. Although during the mikoshi parade, you can’t walk on the Nakamise, you can walk around once mikoshi have departed. Here, you can buy Japanese souvenirs or sweets.
The specialty of Asakusa is a sweet called Ningyo-yaki. You can buy a pack of sweets to bring home as a gift. You can also taste a hot one right away!
Address：1-36-3 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo（東京都台東区浅草1-36-3）
Phone Number：+81-3-3844-3350 (Nakamise Hall)
Opening Hours：Opening hours: varies depending on stores
Holidays：Open all year round
7-min walk from Asakusa Station on Toei Subway Ginza Line and Tokyo Metro Asakusa Line
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