Sanja Matsuri: A Wilder Japan
Dubbed as Japan’s #1 Spring Festival leaning towards the wild side, Sanja Matsuri is visited by over 2 million festival-goers per year. Sanja Matsuri meaning “Three-Shrine Festival” happens annually on the third weekend of May where you’ll witness hundreds of portable shrines (mikoshi) being paraded around the Asakusa Shrine and along nearby areas.
Men, women, and children carry custom-made shrines and shake them with strength and vigor. All the shouting, clapping, and chanting is done in good faith as the Japanese believe the act intensifies the powers of the Kamis—more on this later.
350 years ago, Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari, Hajino Nakatomo went fishing instead of a regular fish, they pulled out a mini statue of Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. They then built the Sensoji Temple to house the statue. Despite being known for attracting a rowdy crowd, the Sanja Matsuri is a religious event dedicated to honoring these men who turned into Shinto gods or Kami—sacred spirit.
What to Expect
As Tokyo’s largest and wildest festival, visitors come together in the streets of Asakusa to join the religious celebration complete with traditional Japanese music, which translates to Taiko drums and flute music.
A festival wouldn’t be a festival without food. At the Sanja Matsuri, thousands of food stalls are put up to tickle your taste buds. There’s also a wide range of festival stalls to keep you even more entertained.
If those aren’t enough, you’ll see Yakuza members strip and show of their tattoos!
During the final day of the festival, three mikoshis owned by the Akasuka Shrine, take center stage. Three mikoshis, three Kamis; makes perfect sense. They symbolize the Asakusa Shrine and are made portable so that the Shrine visits its people instead of the other way around.
Fun Fact #1: The main mikoshis weigh 1 ton each and costs over ¥40 Million Yen.
The mikoshis are shaken relentlessly while being paraded to the different neighborhoods in Asakusa. This is believed to boost the Kamis’ powers and give good luck to locals and tourists that fly in to witness the merrymaking.
Fun Fact # 2: It takes least 40 people to carry one mikoshi and 500 people trade places to carry the mikoshis during the festival.
To make sure these heavy portable shrines don’t accidentally crash into the crowd and the establishments within the area, they each come with instructors who stand on long poles while shouting off directions to the people carrying the mikoshis.
Aside from the eventful parade of the main portable shrines, hundreds of other mikoshis are carried by men, women, and children from different neighborhoods.
Want to join in? The Sensoji Temple is only a short distance to the Asakusa Shrine. You can get to the festival location by getting off at the Asakusa Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Subway Line and the Toei Asakusa Subway Line.
2-3-1 Asakusa Taito-ku Asakusa Jinja Shrine