Sanja Matsuri

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Sanja Matsuri
View of mikoshi from sensoji Sanja Matsuri 2006-3.jpg
A view of the Hōzōmon as well as one of the main mikoshi as seen from the top of the steps of the Sensō-ji
Observed byTokyo
SignificanceHonors Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three founders of Sensō-ji
2019 dateMay 17, 2019
2020 dateMay 15, 2020

Sanja Matsuri(三社祭, literally "Three Shrine Festival"), or Sanja Festival, is one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo. It is considered one of the wildest and largest. [1] The festival is held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari, and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who established and founded the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple. Sanja Matsuri is held on the third weekend of every May at Asakusa Shrine. [2] Its prominent parades revolve around three mikoshi (portable shrines referenced in the festival's name), as well as traditional music and dancing. Over the course of three days, the festival attracts 1.5 to 2 million locals and tourists every year. [3]

Shinto Japanese traditional folk religion

Shinto or kami-no-michi is the traditional religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past.

Festivals in Tokyo

Tokyo holds many festivals (matsuri) throughout the year. Major Shinto shrine festivals include the Sanno Festival at Hie Shrine, and the Sanja Festival at Asakusa Shrine. The Kanda Matsuri in Tokyo is held every two years in May. The festival features a parade with elaborately decorated floats and thousands of people.

Sensō-ji Buddhist temple in Tokyo, Japan

Sensō-ji is an ancient Buddhist temple located in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. It is Tokyo's oldest temple, and one of its most significant. Formerly associated with the Tendai sect of Buddhism, it became independent after World War II. Adjacent to the temple is a five-story pagoda, Shinto shrine, the Asakusa Shrine, as well as many shops with traditional goods in the Nakamise-dōri



Like many Japanese festivals, Sanja Matsuri is a religious celebration. It is a weekend-long Shinto festival that is dedicated to the kami (spirits) of three men. It is believed that two fishermen—brothers named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari—found a statuette of the Bodhisattva Kannon caught in a fishing net in the Sumida River on the early morning of March 18, 628. [4] The third man, a wealthy landlord named Hajino Nakatomo, heard about the discovery, approached the brothers and converted them to Buddhism. The three men then devoted their lives to the Buddhist faith and consecrated the statue in a small temple. [5] This temple, now known as the Sensō-ji, currently houses the Kannon statue and is the oldest temple in Tokyo.

<i>Kami</i> Divine being in Shinto

Kami are the spirits or phenomena that are worshipped in the religion of Shinto. They can be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and the qualities that these beings express; they can also be the spirits of venerated dead persons. Many kami are considered the ancient ancestors of entire clans. Traditionally, great or sensational leaders like the Emperor could be or became kami.

Bodhisattva in Buddhism, a being who has developed a  spontaneous wish and a compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings

In Buddhism, a Bodhisattva is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood but has not yet attained it.

Sumida River Japanese river which flows through Tokyo

The Sumida River is a river that flows through Tokyo, Japan. It branches from the Arakawa River at Iwabuchi and flows into Tokyo Bay. Its tributaries include the Kanda and Shakujii rivers.

The Sanja Matsuri appears to have many forms that date back as early as the 7th century, as well as several names such as "Kannon Matsuri" and "Asakusa Matsuri". [6] Sanja Matsuri's present day form was established during the Edo period. In 1649, shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu commissioned the construction of Asakusa Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the three kami. The existence of this shrine helped to solidify the festival's importance as well as its current structure and organization. [7]

Edo period period of Japanese history

The Edo period or Tokugawa period (徳川時代) is the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan, when Japanese society was under the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate and the country's 300 regional daimyō. The period was characterized by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, a stable population, "no more wars", and popular enjoyment of arts and culture. The shogunate was officially established in Edo on March 24, 1603, by Tokugawa Ieyasu. The period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration on May 3, 1868, after the fall of Edo.

<i>Shōgun</i> de facto military dictator of feudal Japan (1185-1868)

The Shōgun was the military dictator of Japan during the period from 1185 to 1868. In most of this period, the shōguns were the de facto rulers of the country, although nominally they were appointed by the Emperor as a ceremonial formality. The shōguns held almost absolute power over territories through military means. Nevertheless, an unusual situation occurred in the Kamakura period (1199–1333) upon the death of the first shōgun, whereby the Hōjō clan's hereditary titles of shikken (1199–1256) and tokusō (1256–1333) dominated the shogunate as dictatorial positions, collectively known as the Regent Rule (執権政治). The shōguns during this 134-year period met the same fate as the Emperor and were reduced to figurehead status until a coup d'état in 1333, when the shōgun was restored to power in the name of the Emperor.

Tokugawa Iemitsu Edo shogun

Tokugawa Iemitsu was the third shōgun of the Tokugawa dynasty. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Iemitsu ruled from 1623 to 1651, and during this period he crucified Christians, expelled all Europeans from Japan and closed the borders of the country, a foreign politics policy that continued for over 200 years after its institution. It is debatable whether Iemitsu can be considered a kinslayer for making his younger brother Tadanaga commit suicide by seppuku. Iemitsu also had well-known homosexual preferences, and it is speculated he was the last direct male descendant of Tokugawa Ieyasu, thereby ending the patrilineality of the shogunate by the third generation.

Description of events

Asakusa Sanja Festival - a portable Shrine lifted in front of Senso-ji temple. Asakusa Matsuri Senso-ji May06.JPG
Asakusa Sanja Festival – a portable Shrine lifted in front of Sensō-ji temple.

Religious in origin, Sanja Matsuri is primarily a festival of celebration. The atmosphere around Asakusa during the weekend of the festival is charged and energetic. People continuously flood the streets surrounding the Sensō-ji and flutes, whistles, chanting and taiko (traditional Japanese drums) can be heard throughout the district.

Asakusa town located in Taitō-ku, Tokyo

Asakusa (浅草) is a district in Taitō, Tokyo, Japan, famous for the Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon. There are several other temples in Asakusa, as well as various festivals, such as the Sanja Matsuri.

<i>Taiko</i> Japanese percussion instruments

Taiko(太鼓) are a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments. In Japanese, the term refers to any kind of drum, but outside Japan, it is used to refer to any of the various Japanese drums called wadaiko and to the form of ensemble taiko drumming more specifically called kumi-daiko. The process of constructing taiko varies between manufacturers, and preparation of both the drum body and skin can take several years depending on method.

The festival's main attractions are three Asakusa Shrine-owned mikoshi that appear on the third and final day of the festival. These three elaborate, black lacquered-wood shrines are built to act as miniature, portable versions of Asakusa Shrine. Decorated with gold sculptures and painted with gold leaf, each mikoshi weighs approximately one ton and cost ¥40 million ($390,760 in 2008) to construct. [3] They are carried on four long poles lashed together with ropes, and each needs approximately 40 people dispersed evenly to safely carry them. Throughout the day, a total of about 500 people participate in carrying each shrine. [3]


A mikoshi is a divine palanquin. Shinto followers believe that it serves as the vehicle to transport a deity in Japan while moving between main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival or when moving to a new shrine. Often, the mikoshi resembles a miniature building, with pillars, walls, a roof, a veranda and a railing.

Lacquer liquid, powder coating material which is applied thinly to objects

The term lacquer is used for a number of hard and potentially shiny finishes applied to materials such as wood. These fall into a number of very different groups.

Gold leaf art medium

Gold leaf is gold that has been hammered into thin sheets by goldbeating and is often used for gilding. Gold leaf is available in a wide variety of karats and shades. The most commonly used gold is 22-karat yellow gold.

Because of the importance of these three mikoshi, they are spectacles as they are carried through the streets. The areas immediately surrounding each shrine are busy with people, and as they are carried, they are shaken and bounced vehemently. This action is believed to intensify the power of the kami that are seated in the shrines and helps to bestow good luck upon their respective neighborhoods. [8] It is not unusual for there to be someone standing on the poles supporting the mikoshi shouting and waving in order to help direct the people carrying the shrine. This sense of direction can be essential when trying to keep the one ton mikoshi from accidentally colliding with street-side shops and causing considerable damage. [3]

While the three primary mikoshi are the most important objects roaming the streets during the Sanja Matsuri, approximately 100 other smaller mikoshi are paraded through the neighborhood on Saturday. Of these shrines, several are solely carried by women or small children. [3]

Day by day

People paraded through the Nakamise during Sanja Matsuri. Sunday night parade Sanja Matsuri 2006.JPG
People paraded through the Nakamise during Sanja Matsuri.
A music float is carried down Nakamise-dori late Sunday night Float during Sanja Matsuri 2006.JPG
A music float is carried down Nakamise-dōri late Sunday night
Children mikoshi Children carry mikoshi Sanja Matsuri 2006.JPG
Children mikoshi

Though not a part of the festivities, the official start of the Sanja Matsuri begins on Thursday with an important religious ceremony. This ceremony requires Asakusa Shrine's head priest to perform a ritual that moves the enshrined kami of the three men at Asakusa Shrine to the three mikoshi that will be paraded around the Asakusa during the weekend. [9] By opening the small doors located on each mikoshi (the interior is obscured to the public by a small cotton curtain), the three spirits are invited into the miniature shrines where they will reside for the duration of the festival. [3]

The festival's more publicized beginning starts on Friday when the Daigyōretsu(大行列, literally "large parade") is held. [8] This famous 19-block grand procession down Yanagi Street and Nakamise-dōri to Asakusa Shrine is an event that is used to energize the community. It is most known for its participants' lavish costumes, such as heron-hooded dancers, geisha and city officials wearing hakama (traditional Japanese clothing). [3] Musicians, performers and dancers also parade down the streets of Asakusa in traditional Japanese attire during the procession. In the evening, six mikoshi from the most central neighborhoods are sent parading through the streets on the shoulders of several dozen people. [3]

On the following day, Saturday, approximately 100 mikoshi from the 44 Asakusa districts gather at the Kaminarimon. [7] They are then paraded through Nakamise-dōri and stop at the Hōzōmon where they pay their respects to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Afterwards, the mikoshi are carried to Asakusa Shrine where Shinto priests bless and purify them for the coming year. [7] When the ceremony is completed, they are then carried back and paraded through their respective neighborhoods.

Sanja Matsuri's most important events occurs on the following Sunday. The procession of the three Asakusa Shrine-owned mikoshi begin their march down Nakamise-dōri toward the Kaminarimon early Sunday morning. These three elaborate shrines honor and represent the three men responsible for founding the Sensō-ji. During this final day of the festival, these important mikoshi are split up in order to visit and bestow blessing to all 44 districts of downtown and residential Asakusa. When evening falls, the three shrines find their way back to Asakusa Shrine in another grand procession that lasts late into the night. [10]

Other attractions

In addition to the traditional events, Sanja Matsuri has several other popular draws. For example, festival goers can visit hundreds of shops found in the Nakamise, a street connecting the Kaminarimon and the Hōzōmon. Many small food stands are also erected in the surrounding areas for the entire weekend. Yakuza members also proudly show off their tattoos. [11]

Other spectacles that draw crowds are the Geisha and taiko performances that take place at specific times throughout the weekend. On Saturday and Sunday, Geisha that don their traditional attire put on performances from 1–3 p.m. on the second floor of the Asakusa Kenban. These performances, which require visitors to purchase tickets, have been ranked as one of the 10 best Geisha shows in all of Japan. [12] On Sunday afternoon, members of the Nihon Taiko Dojo, a prominent Tokyo taiko academy, perform a free half-hour traditional music show at Asakusa Shrine. [3]

Festival schedule

Though there are many activities during Sanja Matsuri that are not time dependent, there are a few events that start and stop at specific times throughout the weekend.

Preparation, Thursday
7 amAsakusa Shrine's Kami RelocationThe head priest moves the kami from Asakusa Shrine to the respective mikoshiAsakusa Shrine [9]
Day 1, Friday
1 p.m.Daigyōretsu beginsLarge parade involving many people and floatsYanagi St. & Nakamise-dōri [13]
2:20 p.m. Binzasara DanceTraditional dance used to pray for prosperity and a good harvest Haiden (hall in Asakusa Shrine) [9] [13]
3 p.m.Binzasara DanceTraditional dance used to pray for prosperity and a good harvestKaguraden (pavilion in Asakusa Shrine) [9] [13]
Day 2, Saturday
12:30 p.m.Local mikoshi departAbout 100 mikoshi from 44 districts of Asakusa begin their tour of the townAsakusa Shrine [9]
Day 3, Sunday
6  a.m.Three main mikoshi depart3 main mikoshi depart from Asakusa shrine to start their tour of the districts of AsakusaAsakusa Shrine [13]
8 p.m.Three main mikoshi returnAfter touring the districts of Asakusa, the 3 main mikoshi returnAsakusa Shrine [13]

See also

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