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

Asakusa Samba Carnival’s Dance Extravaganza (Video)


The Asakusa Samba Carnival has grown from modest beginnings in 1981 to become one of Asia’s largest summer festivals, attracting 500,000 spectators each year. With about 4,000 participants in 18 teams, the competition is fierce and passionate.                    

The Asakusa Samba Carnival, one of Asia’s largest summer festivals, will take place this year on August 29.

The video presents scenes from last year’s event. Rain and cloudy skies cleared up just in time to leave bright, sunny weather perfect for samba. As dancers in gorgeous costumes shimmied through the streets, 500,000 spectators cheered them on.

Asakusa Embraces the New

The carnival was first held in 1981 after local comedian Ban Junzaburō suggested it would be a way of revitalizing the area. Although now seen as a more traditional part of Tokyo, Asakusa has had a reputation over the years for embracing the new.

Japan’s first movie theater the Denkikan was built in Asakusa, as was the first private aquarium and the first modern skyscraper Ryōunkaku, with 12 floors and an electric elevator. As Tokyo’s top entertainment district for much of the twentieth century, it was a place to encounter novel diversions.

This was true for the carnival too. When it was first introduced, Brazilian culture was much less well known in Japan than it is today. In line with the increasing number of Brazilians living in Japan, however, the samba on show has become more sophisticated, taking strong influence from the Rio de Janeiro model of the dance.

The carnival is a contest as well as a spectacle with teams preparing music, costumes, floats, dancing, and other performances to match a chosen theme. From Asakusa locals to international tourists, thousands of fans line the streets to view the dance extravaganza.

(Originally written in Japanese and published on August 17, 2015. Photographs by Yamada Shinji.)

Teams prepare costumes in line with a theme.

In the competition, the floats are judged too.

A Japanese-influenced samba.

The passion of samba lights up the carnival.

video tourism Tokyo dance Asakusa movies entertainment festivals events samba international tourists dance performance Kantō region carnival