Sanja Matsuri (三社祭, literally "Three Shrine Festival"), or Sanja Festival, is one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo, along with the Kanda Matsuri and Sannō Matsuri. It is considered one of the wildest and largest. The festival is held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who established and founded Sensō-ji. Sanja Matsuri is held on the third weekend of every May at Asakusa Shrine. Its prominent parades revolve around three mikoshi (three portable shrines referenced in the festival's name), as well as traditional music and dancing. Over the course of three days, the festival attracts 1.5 to 2 million locals and tourists every year.
Like many Japanese festivals, Sanja Matsuri is a religious celebration. It is a weekend-long Shinto festival that is dedicated to the kami (spirits) of three men. It is believed that two fishermen—brothers named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari—found a statuette of the Bodhisattva Kannon caught in a fishing net in the Sumida River on May 17, 628. The third man, a wealthy landlord named Hajino Nakatomo, heard about the discovery, approached the brothers and converted them to Buddhism. The three of men then devoted their lives to the Buddhist faith and consecrated the statue in a small temple. This temple, now known as the Sensō-ji, currently houses the Kannon statue and is the oldest temple in Tokyo.
The Sanja Matsuri appears to have many forms that date back as early as the 7th century, as well as several names such as "Kannon Matsuri" and "Asakusa Matsuri". Sanja Matsuri's present day form was established during the Edo Period. In 1649, shogunate Tokugawa Iemitsu commissioned the construction of Asakusa Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the three kami. The existence of this shrine helped to solidify the festival's importance as well as its current structure and organization.
Description of events
Religious in origin, Sanja Matsuri is primarily a festival of celebration. The atmosphere around Asakusa during the weekend of the festival is charged and energetic. People continuously flood the streets surrounding the Sensō-ji and flutes, whistles, chanting and taiko (traditional Japanese drums) can be heard throughout the district.
The festival's main attractions are three Asakusa Shrine-owned mikoshi that appear on the third and final day of the festival. These three elaborate, black lacquered-wood shrines are built to act as miniature, portable versions of Asakusa Shrine. Decorated with gold sculptures and painted with gold leaf, each mikoshi weighs approximately one ton and cost ¥40 million ($390,760 in 2008) 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.
Because of the importance of these three mikoshi, they are spectacles as they are carried through the streets. The areas immediately surrounding each shrine are busy with people, and as they are carried, they are shaken and bounced vehemently. This action is believed to intensify the power of the kami that are seated in the shrines and helps to bestow good luck upon their respective neighborhoods. It is not unusual for there to be someone standing on the poles supporting the mikoshi shouting and waving in order to help direct the people carrying the shrine. This sense of direction can be essential when trying to keep the one ton mikoshi from accidentally colliding with street-side shops and causing considerable damage.
While the three primary mikoshi are the most important objects roaming the streets during the Sanja Matsuri, approximately 100 other smaller mikoshi are paraded through the neighborhood on Saturday. Of these shrines, several are solely carried by women or small children.
Day by day
Though not a part of the festivities, the official start of the Sanja Matsuri begins on Thursday with an important religious ceremony. This ceremony requires Asakusa Shrine's head priest to perform a ritual that moves the enshrined kami of the three men at Asakusa Shrine to the three mikoshi that will be paraded around the Asakusa during the weekend. By opening the small doors located on each mikoshi (the interior is obscured to the public by a small cotton curtain), the three spirits are invited into the miniature shrines where they will reside for the duration of the festival.
The festival's more publicized beginning starts on Friday when the Daigyōretsu (大行列, literally "large parade") is held. This famous 19-block grand procession down Yanagi Street and Nakamise-dōri to Asakusa Shrine is an event that is used to energize the community. It is most known for its participants' lavish costumes, such as heron-hooded dancers, geisha and city officials wearing hakama (traditional Japanese clothing). Musicians, performers and dancers also parade down the streets of Asakusa in traditional Japanese attire during the procession. In the evening, six mikoshi from the most central neighborhoods are sent parading through the streets on the shoulders of several dozen people.
On the following day, Saturday, approximately 100 mikoshi from the 44 Asakusa districts gather at the Kaminarimon. They are then paraded through Nakamise-dōri and stop at the Hōzōmon where they pay their respects to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Afterwards, the mikoshi are carried to Asakusa Shrine where Shinto priests bless and purify them for the coming year. When the ceremony is completed, they are then carried back and paraded through their respective neighborhoods.
Sanja Matsuri's most important events occurs on the following Sunday. The procession of the three Asakusa Shrine-owned mikoshi begin their march down Nakamise-dōri toward the Kaminarimon early Sunday morning. These three elaborate shrines honor and represent the three men responsible for founding the Sensō-ji. During this final day of the festival, these important mikoshi are split up in order to visit and bestow blessing to all 44 districts of downtown and residential Asakusa. When evening falls, the three shrines find their way back to Asakusa Shrine in another grand procession that lasts late into the night.
In addition to the traditional events, Sanja Matsuri has several other popular draws. For example, festival goers can visit hundreds of shops found in the Nakamise, a street connecting the Kaminarimon and the Hōzōmon. Many small food stands are also erected in the surrounding areas for the entire weekend. Yakuza members also proudly show off their tattoos.
Other spectacles that draw crowds are the Geisha and taiko performances that take place at specific times throughout the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, Geisha that don their traditional attire put on performances from 1-3 pm on the second floor of the Asakusa Kenban. These performances, which require visitors to purchase tickets, have been ranked as one of the 10 best Geisha shows in all of Japan. On Saturday afternoon, members of the Nihon Taiko Dojo, a prominent Tokyo taiko academy, perform a free half-hour traditional music show at Asakusa Shrine.
Though there are many activities during Sanja Matsuri that are not time dependent, there are a few events that start and stop and specific times throughout the weekend.
|7 am||Asakusa Shrine's Kami Relocation||The head priest moves the kami from Asakusa Shrine to the respective mikoshi||Asakusa Shrine|||
|Day 1, Friday|
|1 pm||Daigyōretsu begins||Large parade involving many people and floats||Yanagi St. & Nakamise-dōri|||
|2:20 pm||Binzasara Dance||Traditional dance used to pray for prosperity and a good harvest||Haiden (hall in Asakusa Shrine)|||
|3 pm||Binzasara Dance||Traditional dance used to pray for prosperity and a good harvest||Kaguraden (pavilion in Asakusa Shrine)|||
|Day 2, Saturday|
|12:30 pm||Local mikoshi depart||About 100 mikoshi from 44 districts of Asakusa begin their tour of the town||Asakusa Shrine|||
|Day 3, Sunday|
|6 am||Three main mikoshi depart||3 main mikoshi depart from Asakusa shrine to start their tour of the districts of Asakusa||Asakusa Shrine|||
|8 pm||Three main mikoshi return||After touring the districts of Asakusa, the 3 main miksohi return||Asakusa Shrine|||
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- ↑ "Japan Events and Festivals". HotelTravel.com. http://www.hoteltravel.com/japan/guides/festivals.htm#sanja_matsuri. Retrieved 2008-05-07.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Graham, Fiona. "Festival Frenzy". Metropolis. http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/685/feature.asp. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- ↑ "Asakusa Kannon (Sensoji Temple)". World Greatest Sites. http://www.worldgreatestsites.com/sensoji.htm. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- ↑ "Asakusa Shrine". http://www.asakusajinja.jp/english/. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- ↑ "三社祭とは?" (in Japanese). http://www.asakusajinja.jp/sanjamatsuri/yurai.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Turner, Taisha. "Japanese Festivals - Sanja Matsuri (Day 2)". BellaOnline. http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art29889.asp. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Miller, David. "Sanja Matsuri: Unique traditional Festival of Japan in Asakusa, Tokyo". Excelloz Travel. http://www.excelloz.com/Travel_guide/Tokyo/Sanja_Matsuri_Festival_of_Asakusa_Shrine_Tokyo.html. Retrieved 2008-03-05.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 "日程" (in Japanese). http://www.asakusajinja.jp/sanjamatsuri/nittei.html. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
- ↑ "The Asakusa Sanja Matsuri". The Digital Matsuri Project. 2006-05-21. http://www.digitalmatsuri.com/?p=3. Retrieved 2008-04-08.
- ↑ "Sanja Matsuri Festival". AsiaRooms.com. http://www.asiarooms.com/travel-guide/japan/japan-festivals-&-events/sanja-matsuri-festival.html. Retrieved 2008-06-30.
- ↑ Mishima, Shizuko. "Top 10 Geisha Shows". About.com. http://gojapan.about.com/od/geisha/tp/bestgeishashow.htm. Retrieved 2008-04-08.
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "Asakusa Sanja Matsuri". Japan National Tourist Organization. http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/indepth/history/traditionalevents/a26_fes_sanja.html. Retrieved 2008-03-05.