Every year I visit the huge Sanja matsuri, or festival, in Tokyo’s Asakusa area I am sure to catch at least one new animal participant! So far I have seen dogs, marmots, cats, pigs, parrots and even monkeys. This year I saw this wonderfully well dressed little dog, loving the attention and the treats he was getting from the crowds that formed around him.
The tiny paper fan tucked into his obi at the back is a perfect detail. Sorry for the poor picture quality though, the light had almost completely disappeared when I took these and the crowds of people were blocking out what little light came from shops and street lights. If you want to see more festival styled animals, please see this dog here or these cats here and here!
Sanjamatsuri, the biggest festival in Japan, that took place a month ago is naturally famous for its crowded streets and huge amounts of people (nearly two million visitors on the main two days). One of the peaks of the festival is when the neighborhood omikoshi are brought up to greet the big Sensoji temple. As close to the stairs as possible, where dozens of police officers work hard to maintain orders and hundreds of volunteers do their best to direct the over one hundred omikoshi to enter the temple grounds, receive their blessing and exit as quickly as possible. You can’t tell from these photos, but behind the temple there is a several hours long traffic jam as different omikoshi converge on their routes to the temple and the neighboring Asakusa shrine. I managed to get relatively close to the main action and got these photos of the a few omikoshi teams approaching the temple. Some of the omikoshi are special children’s omikoshi, staffed only by kids. There are even different omikoshi for different age groups and I caught one of the tiniest omikoshi in the entire festival in a couple of photos. Too cute for words!
This is how you build a homogenous, well functioning society based on shared experiences, shared values and above all, participation.
After the big firefighter’s memorial service and exhibition is over, there remains one thing to do, the group photo! One of the teams took a prime photos spot just beneath the western exit of the huge Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district where a professional photographer was waiting with some very heavy duty camera equipment. I wonder if the tourists idling at the top of the stairs realize that they will probably be in a photo that will be hanging in this firefighter team club house long past the 24th century? This team has been around since the early 18th century and will most likely be around for at least as long as that again.
Allow me to go a little philosophic here: surely, isn’t one of the reasons of life, of our short existence on this planet, to be able to feel that we are part of something greater? One link in a chain stretching centuries behind us, and hopefully centuries ahead of us.
My favorite part of the annual firefighter’s memorial service in Asakusa’s Sensoji temple is the hashigonoriengi, or ladder acrobatics. The firefighters, which were originally often recruited from lower ranking samurai had to be skilled in climbing the handmade bamboo ladders, and these acrobatics were developed as way to let them develop their skills while showing off their fearless attitude and bravery.
There are quite a few different positions, while all are dangerous some of them are so dangerous that even imagining performing them makes my spine chill. Still, the firefighters make it all look easy. When it rains the ladders get quite slippery but on this ceremony the weather held and we were treated to all the best positions!
Quite by chance I found this Youtube video of some darling genius who made a story book tale of a bunch of bears starting their own hashigonoriengi group, from studying with tiny textbooks to actually performing at a little shrine! More photos from this annual ceremony to come though.