About Sanja Matsuri
Sensoji (temple) is a must-see place for most tourists who come from abroad to visit Tokyo. Once a year, Sensoji holds the Sanja Matsuri, one of the most vibrant festivals in the country. Sensoji enshrines a statue of Buddha that was found in the Sumida river in the year 628.
Standing next to Sensoji is Asakusa Shrine which enshrines the fishermen brothers as deities who found the statue of Buddha. This shrine is also called Sanja-sama because it enshrines three gods: two brothers and a sage who discerned this Buddha statue to be valuable. This is where the name “Sanja Matsuri” comes from.
Like other festivals, in this festival too, you can observe authentic Japanese ceremonies and parades. The highlight of this festival is the mikoshi (decorated portable shrines) parade during which bearers carry the mikoshi around and occasionally jostle with each other. A long time ago, when Tokyo was still called Edo, it was common for a festival to turn into a street fight.
In this festival, you can still see how people of Edo used to passionately celebrate festivals. During these three days, 1.85 million people visit here. If you are thinking about participating in this festival, please be safe and stay together with your family and friends.
Highlights of Sanja Matsuri
1. Beautiful parade
Although Sanja Matsuri is known for the wild mikoshi parades, it starts with a quiet dignified ceremony on the first day. A Daigyoretsu (large procession) takes place on the streets. This is followed by “Ohayashi” musicians who play flutes and drums. Then come the beautiful heron-hooded dancers, dancing “the dance of the heron” as they walk through the streets of Asakusa.
Binzasara Dance, a traditional dance considered an intangible cultural property by Tokyo city, has been performed to pray for a good harvest since a long time.
2. You can see mikoshi one day earlier in “Yoimiya”
The main mikoshi parade takes place on Saturday and Sunday. If you won’t be able to come to Asakusa on the weekend, you can take a look on the famous mikoshi during Yoimiya, which starts at 17:30 on Friday, the first day of the festival! The place is animated by many locals who wish to take a first look of mikoshi in Yoimiya. It is also the only day when you can see a mikoshi parade in the evening.
3. More than 100 mikoshi in Asakusa: Local mikoshi procession
On the second day of the festival, the local mikoshi depart to parade around the city. More than 100 big and small mikoshi, that come from more than 40 cities, walk around the crowded areas of Asakusa after being purified at Asakusa Shrine. Since each group of mikoshi bearers try to show that their mikoshi is the best, they are very competitive! It is such a dynamic show that sometimes these procession turn into being street fights.
Mikoshi parade around the city with festive music animating the entire area. You can wait at Asakusa Shrine where the mikoshi parade starts. Some people, however, enjoy walking along with mikoshi that they like. Some mikoshi groups are composed of only men while others are mixed or women’s only.
4. Bearers jostle to carry the mikoshi during the Main Procession
On the third day of Sanja Matsuri, the main event of the festival, the Main Procession takes place. “Miyadashi” is a spiritual event when three mikoshi leave Asakusa Shrine. Since it is a great honor to carry these three mikoshi, many people jostle to carry them. The large crowd of people try to take the few places available to carry mikoshi. No wonder things get out of hand!
Even if you can get a place near the carrying bar of mikoshi, other carriers gather around to take your place. That’s how mikoshi are taken out of the shrine.
After parading around the city, the mikoshi are brought back to Asakusa Shine. It is called “Miyairi,” a ceremony when gods return to the shrine from the mikoshi. With this ceremony, Sanja Matsuri ends at Asakusa Shrine.
5. Street stalls
During Sanja Matsuri, many street stalls are opened. From Kaminarimon to Umamichi street, a special “Matsuri Plaza” is created on the last day of festival with many street stalls. Check our features on matsuri food!
Period and Schedule
The festival is organized over three days on the nearest weekend to 17th, 18th of May each year. In 2019, it is from May 17-19.
May 17 (Fri)
Daigyoretsu (Large procession)
Binzasara dance performance
Ceremony to relocate the Gods
May 18 (Sat)
Local Mikoshi Procession
May 19 (Sun)