Matsuri Days (1): A Guide to Asakusa and the Sanja Matsuri

The Sanja Matsuri: Tokyo’s Most Raucous Festival (Video)


Of all Tokyo’s many festivals, none is bigger, brasher, or more raucous than the Sanja Matsuri, which draws more than a million people onto the streets of Asakusa in mid-May every year. More than 100 brightly decorated mikoshi are carried through the narrow streets in a flurry of noise, excitement, and local pride. Let these video clips introduce you to the magic of Tokyo’s wildest street party!

Organized Chaos

The highlight of the Sanja Matsuri comes when the three mighty mikoshi belonging to the Asakusa Shrine are paraded through the streets on Sunday. Leaving the shrine at dawn, the three colossal mikoshi are carried through the 44 neighborhoods of Asakusa in a riotous explosion of excitement and noise that lasts through the day. Crowds of people throng the area as the people of Asakusa celebrate the biggest street party on the Tokyo calendar. At the handover from one district to the next, crowds of pumped-up people compete for pole position. The frenzy that ensues has earned the festival the nickname ara-matsuri, or “the wild festival.” Each neighborhood association takes charge of the mikoshi for just 40 minutes: a brief moment packed with a year’s worth of excitement and energy.

A Living Tradition

In late May 2012, the Sanja Matsuri took place for the first time in two years. The local people had been planning and practicing for months. We joined the Komagata neighborhood association for the three days of the festival. Here we report on the local traditions proudly passed on from generation to generation.

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