Sanja Matsuri – The Big Ending
The Grand Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa district is one of the biggest in the country and this year it was the 700th anniversary as well. It’s famous for being overwhelmingly crowded even though it is spread out over several city blocks. It’s a three day event, all building up to the big ending on the Sunday night where three of the main omikoshi, the portable shrines, get to be presented in front of the great temple Sensoji, approaching through the Kaminarimon (the gate of thunder) where the traditional lantern has been raised. It’s possible to witness this from the front of the temple but only a few hundreds can fit in the small area that is made even smaller by huge portable metal gates being rolled out to restrict access. I wasn’t one of those brave people up front this year so I stayed out in front of the Kaminarimon to see the mayhem up there instead. It was amazing! tens of thousands of people had crowded in front of the gate when the priests showed up. And at just that moment, even though the main street had been closed for traffic during the whole day someone decided that it was time for the city buses to start running on their normal routes again. The whole crowd let out a collective groan as the lone police officer tried to tell people to move aside, much easier said than done. It took quite some time for the bus to move through the crowds and we all cheered and clapped when the first bus passed us, the few passengers inside looked really surprised to be getting this almost royal treatment and waved back at us. And then the omikoshi came, at first the elders tried to tell us gently to step back as the beast of a thing came lumbering towards us on its feet of dozens of bearers, when that didn’t work they yelled, and finally pushed as people scrambled to get out of the way of a couple of ton of lumber, metal and men. For some reason the crowd made it and no-one was hurt, not even the little kids next to me! I wasn’t able to take any photos of the scramble as I was busy staying on two feet and keeping my camera from becoming too friendly with the asphalt. Great fun by all and lost of cheering when the omikoshi was presented to the shrine and disappeared to make the last journey towards the main temple building. Being unable to follow that part I took some photos of the usually superbly calm police officers looking as cool as always!