Starting on Friday and ending in the grand finale on Sunday, today, is the huge Sanja Matsuri, probably the biggest festival in Tokyo. Among all the hundreds of thousands (actually about 2 million people over the three days) I spotted these two, looking great in a quiet corner of Sensoji Temple. Even dogs dress in their finest on these important days!
Not the first post on the fantastic Kurayami festival in Tokyo’s western Fuchu City, and not the first post on the very skilled traveling candy artisans, but I couldn’t pass up on this man! He is one of the amezaiku (飴細工), or sugar craftsmen, who puts up their booths in festivals all over Japan. With a pair of scissors and some simple wooden tools they create animals and creatures out of colored soft sugar. This guy was certainly one of the better I have seen and was popular with both adults and little children. If you are in Tokyo and want to see some really good amezaiku at work there’s a shop near Sendagi station, at the Dangozaka. Their creations are too beautiful to consider eating though!
Often when visiting festivals the layman (like me) will be thoroughly baffled by almost all the activities taking place. The larger festivals have many rituals and ceremonies, different people have different roles to play, sacred objects are paraded, water is strewn, banners are raised, chants are begun and abruptly ended. Seemingly important parades end in what can only be described as the middle of nowhere and out of order chaos suddenly erupts as people are suddenly filled with some urgent purpose to stride somewhere else in shining regalia, only to seemingly change their mind and go for a soba break with the lads from the office. In short, most of everything that takes place at a festival is bewildering confusion. It doesn’t usually help to ask other bystanders. Many times have I had to explain (even with my basic understanding) what is going on to little old Japanese ladies that have lived next to the shrine all their lives. Sometimes I am even correct! I don’t even ask the people involved anymore – most low level participants have a sketchy idea of themselves of what is going on, and the people who do know are far to busy to have time to talk to a mere tourist. But every now and then you just stand in a street corner looking lost and some old man will stumble out with a half empty bottle of sake and explain, in mind numbingly detail just what is going on, and suddenly all the pieces fall together and the missing link between half a dozen ceremonies and costumes and chants are processions appears right in front of you.
Something similar happened to me on the second day of the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s western Fuchu City, when I watched the Michikiyomegi procession get ready and finally march out of the grand Okunitama Shrine (大國魂神社), chanting while beating the ground rhythmically with large bamboo sticks. But I’ll save that story for another blog post, in the mean time I’ll let you enjoy this bewildering moment in peace. If you do happen to be able to connect all the dots here, don’t write too many spoilers in the comments please!
The semi-annual matsuri, or festival, of the grand Kanda shrine (神田明神) is one of Tokyo’s largest in terms of physical area covered. The whole procession takes over nine hours of walking in from Ochanomizu station in the northwest to far beyond Sutengu in the south east and it goes on for several days. It is similar in style to the Sanno Matsuri but with over 200 omikoshi attracting thousands of participants. I spent my Saturday at the festival, together with the pouring rain from morning all until morning the next day. When I took these photos in front of the Suitengu shrine the procession had already been walking for seven hours and must have thoroughly soaked. Luckily the peak of the festival which took place they day after saw fantastic weather, hot and sunny. I was out of town though so I missed it! Let’s hope that the weather is better next time around, in May 2015.