Tokyo Map
Site Index
Contact
Random
Our Travel Books
Advertising / Press

The Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

The best known of Tokyo’s Shinto festivals is surely the Sanja Matsuri, based in and around the Sensō-ji Temple. For three days in late May, the streets of Asakusa transform into a wildly drunken party zone. We braved the throngs on Sunday, which is the festival’s main day.

Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa

The Sanja Matsuri is among the most joyfully wanton religious parties we’ve ever seen. People don’t come to solemnly observe scripture, but to go nuts in celebration of their culture. The action centers around the Sensō-ji, Tokyo’s oldest temple, and its three movable shrines. On Sunday morning, these shrines are brought out of the temple, and groups representing various neighborhoods fight (sometimes violently) for the honor of carrying them.

We arrived in Asakusa shortly after lunch, by which time the streets were already packed with revelers, a good percentage of whom were completely wasted. And we immediately took note of the outfit for men: a short robe over white cloth diapers. To walk around like that, a certain level of inebriation surely helps.

The Sanja Matsuri is meant to honor the three founders of the temple: the fisher brothers who discovered the icon of the Bodhisttava Kannon in the river, and the lord who enshrined it, thus establishing Sensō-ji in 628. But for all practical purposes, it’s just an excuse to have a good time. The crowds around the temple ebb and flow with the appearance of a shrine… whether it’s one of the main three, or one of the many smaller shrines also making the rounds.

The festival is fun, but overwhelming. We followed the crowds, watching sweaty, shrine-carrying groups of guys and girls fight their way down the street. Even kids got in on the act, hoisting their own miniature shrines. We walked toward the temple and saw geishas playing musical instruments, as well as a group of people wearing traditional wooden masks. And after a couple hours, we’d had enough. This is largely a locals-only event, where the celebrating is done by groups of neighbors and friends, and we were neither Japanese nor drunk enough to get into the spirit. It’s an amazing experience, though, and if you happen to be in Tokyo on the third weekend in May, one that shouldn’t be missed.

Location on our Map

Strange Japanese DIY Candy

Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa
, , , ,
July 7, 2014 at 6:59 am Comments (0)

Sensō-ji Temple

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Tokyo’s oldest temple is the Sensō-ji, constructed in the year 645. Like almost everything else in this city plagued by earthquakes and fire, it’s been rebuilt multiple times, but has always been an important place of worship.

A visit to Sensō-ji begins through the Kaminari-mon, a large gate protected on either side by wooden representations of the gods of thunder and wind. Past these formidable guardians is the Nakamise-dōri Shopping Street. The vendors of this teeming market sell every kind of souvenir imaginable, from key chains to ninja costumes, as well as a wide variety of traditional sweets, treats, teas and ice cream.

It may seem strange for the path leading to an important temple to be so secular and commercial, but that’s because the rulers of Tokyo haven’t always looked upon Sensō;-ji with deference. During the Meiji Restoration, officials made a concentrated effort to reduce the influence of Buddhism, and encouraged the city’s seedier elements to set up shop in Asakusa, and particularly along Nakamise-dōri. The street became a home to prostitution and gambling, which wasn’t entirely troubling to the temple’s monks, many of whom reportedly enjoyed exactly such vices.

Nakamise-dōri has cleaned up its act considerably. Today, the most sinful thing being sold here are taiyaki, delicious fish-shaped cookies filled with chocolate. It’s not a bad idea to eat a few, because you’ll need the energy while visiting Sensō-ji. The temple is huge, with grounds that include multiple shrines, the Hondo (main hall), a five-story pagoda, statues, gates, a museum and even a Japanese garden.

Let’s have a word about that garden. After an hour spent walking around the Sensō-ji, we’d had enough of incense and crowds and were preparing to leave. But then we saw a sign advertising the “Temple Museum with Attached Japanese Garden,” in a building near the western exit. Having just completed a comprehensive exploration of the temple, we agreed there was simply no space for a garden. “It’s going to be a few plants in the corner… max.”

The museum was magnificent, much better than expected, with wood carvings and scrolls, along with paintings of samurai and strange demon gods. And then we emerged into the garden. I still don’t understand it. The place was huge… a real park! A long circular path led past a pond, a tea garden complete with monk serving tea, into a forest (a forest?!), and over hills. By the laws of reality, this park should not have been possible. It’s like we stepped out of the museum, into some sort of pocket universe.

Lending credence to my outlandish theory was the fact that, although the crowd in the temple had been borderline outrageous, and despite this being the Sensō-ji’s most beautiful corner, the garden was nearly empty. It can’t have been the museum’s extremely reasonable entry fee scaring people off. No, the likeliest answer remains a disruption in the space-time continuum. Good luck finding the garden yourself, because it might not really exist.

Location of Sens?-ji on our Map

Weird Kit Kat Flavors From Japan

, , , , , , ,
April 3, 2014 at 3:04 am Comments (3)

The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Nakamise-dōri, a pedestrian shopping street which leads directly to the temple of Sensō-ji, is always busy, but today it was packed. All eyes were cast upwards as a 60-foot dragon wound its way through the air, above the crowd. It was March 18th and Sensō-ji was celebrating the Kinryu no Mai, or Golden Dragon Dance.

The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji

Way back in the year 628, two brothers found an icon of the Boddhisattva Kannon while fishing in the Sumida River. They were non-believers and threw the icon back into the water. Soon thereafter, it appeared once more in their nets. They discarded it again, and when the relic showed up a third time, they figured that it must be some sort of sign.

They went to their chief, who listened intently to the story and decided to honor the miraculous icon by building a new temple, the first in the village which would later become Tokyo. When the figure was enshrined, Kannon herself was said to have descended from the sky in the form of a golden dragon.

It’s this legend which the annual Golden Dragon Dance seeks to recreate. We followed the weaving creature down Nakamise-Dōri and into the courtyard of the Sensō-i, where the real dance would begin. Seven younger guys holding sticks managed the dragon’s twisting, fluid motions, while an older man wielding a staff pranced in front of the beast, shouting at it. I’m still unsure whether he was supposed to be commanding, communicating with, or fighting the dragon. Regardless, it was an entertaining show.

Location on our Map

Framed Photos From Tokyo

The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
The Golden Dragon Dance of Senso-Ji
, , , , , , , ,
March 30, 2014 at 8:03 am Comment (1)
The Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa The best known of Tokyo's Shinto festivals is surely the Sanja Matsuri, based in and around the Sensō-ji Temple. For three days in late May, the streets of Asakusa transform into a wildly drunken party zone. We braved the throngs on Sunday, which is the festival's main day.
For 91 Days