A few more photos from the big Sannou Matsuri in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago. Most traditional festivals in Japan are very closely related to the ancient Shinto religion, a religion that started more as a folk-lore and in which there are many kinds of spirits, human, natural, animal, even mineral! So it makes sense to acknowledge the natural spirits of even the plants and the animals of Japan in many of the shinto festivals. Here a white horse and a holy tree are used in the 9 hour plus procession around Japan. If you missed it this year, make sure to go see it next year!
A couple of weeks ago we were able to enjoy the prestigious Sannou Matsuri here in Tokyo, one of the three grand edo period festivals of the city. Among the participants in the parade was quite a few fantastically dressed young ladies. When I took these photos these people had been walking for the better part of the day from early morning and I would imagine they were getting quite tired on this very hot day. I especially like the first photo, I managed to catch that wonderful look on her face!
Today – right now actually – is your last chance to see this year’s grand Sannou Matsuri procession on the streets of Tokyo. Covering a pretty good part of Tokyo’s most central addresses, this procession will spend almost ten hours winding its way to Nagatacho’s Hie shrine. I took these photos on Friday, the first day of the procession, and since it was a weekday very few people were out to watch it. As with most traditional things in this city of millions, most people have never heard of this festival and can live their entire lives in Tokyo without ever seeing it even though it employs hundreds of people and is one of the three major historical festivals in Tokyo.
As with all festivals, the portable shrines are the center point. They are carried, pulled, rolled or drawn around the city to parade the holy shrine for the city to see. In the old days festivals would compete to have the most extravagant omikoshi, hikiyama or dashi (お神輿, 曳山, 山車, there are several names for the different types of portable shrines). These hikiyama could become very tall, some have raisable platforms so that they could more easily be stored, some had mast like contraptions that could raise the top of it tens of meters in the air. But most of these really tall hikiyama fell victim to the modernization of Japanese cities and the last time they were used in Tokyo was in 1889, before the trams and train lines made it impossible to move them around the city. These days they are much smaller but still accompanies by teams of men with large bamboo poles to lift wires and other obstructions. When they pass through particularly narrow openings or under bridges, people usually cheer! The phoenix (or any kind of mythological bird) on top of the portable shrines) look slightly different around Japan. I have been told that Osaka birds are more modest in their wingspan, while Tokyo people preferred birds that really stretched out their wings. I wonder if this is correct? So if you’re in Tokyo reading this, get out there and cheer them on! I posted a link to the procession map in yesterday’s blog!
Tokyo has three major religious festivals dating from the Edo period, one of them is the famous Sannou Matsuri taking place at the two Hie Shrines in Chiyoda ward, at the very heart of Tokyo. The main event is the three day procession, where about a hundred or so participants, including horses, a tree, and religious statues and shrines are carried, pulled or walked around some of the most famous areas of Tokyo: Yotsuya, Ichigaya, Kudanshita, Nihonbashi, Ginza, Kyobashi, Shimbashi, Yurakucho, Nagatacho. During these three days, the procession covers miles and miles of ground from morning to about 1700, and it is taking place right now as I write this, so if you are free I recommend heading to downtown Tokyo right now or tomorrow during the day to check out the grand procession! There’s a map with major points, the route and estimated times at this link (it’s a large PDF).
I went to see this procession as they neared the end of the route on the first day, it was the first day we have had so far with summer like levels of humidity and heat so I was drenched in sweat and pretty exhausted after just a few minutes of following the procession, I can only imagine how tired they must have been from walking constantly from 7:45, not resting more than a few minutes here and there, in costume and with all their gear, so have patience with the tired faces in these photos! And speaking about faces, in these processions participants are not allowed to wear make-up, so it’s a good chance to see normal Japanese women without cosmetics! To me at least, they look lovely. The white horse is especially holy in Japan, technically I guess it is a pony but it is still pretty inspiring. In these processions the white horse is never ridden, only led. Enjoy, more photos to follow!