When winter finally lets go of Tokyo and the days start to get long and warm, it’s time to take the local deities out and show them a good time! But the
kami-sama can’t just wedge onto the train like the rest of us – they have to be taken around in style while being reminded of the streets & stores it’s their duty to watch over for the rest of the year. And the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa is the mightiest festival of all!
Every spring, the good citizens of Asakusa break out the saké & festival coats – and shed their pants – to carry the local gods through the streets in elaborate portable gold shrines.
Kids take part from the time they’re able to walk,
Each team represents a neighborhood, and it’s a matter of honor to try and out-do the guys next door when it comes to loudness of chanting, vigorousness of shrine jostling, and overall festivity.
It doesn’t look like hard work from the sidelines, but each o-mikoshi can weigh up to a ton, and teams need to switch out carriers several times over the course of the parade.
Each team takes a special route through Asakusa – being sure to linger in their own neighborhood to make sure the gods get a good look at the people and places that fall within their sphere of influence – but they all parade down the street in front of the grand Senso-ji Temple sometime during the afternoon.
It’s hard to capture the sheer energy of a Japanese festival in a single snapshot, because the shrines aren’t just carried through the streets, they’re danced.
A tired shrine carrier relaxes after the festival with his mohawk-sporting poodle.
The afterparty is a no-holds-barred, all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink celebration, and sometimes exuberant shrine carriers forget they’re basically standing around in their underwear.
If you’d like to visit the Asakusa area the next time you’re in Tokyo, visit my website,
The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had
And just for fun, here are the
eleven strangest shrines in Tokyo, with all the inside scoop on the resident gods’ superpowers
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Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly e-magazine Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had