At the huge and glorious Sanjamatsuri in Tokyo’s Asakusa district earlier this month I took these snaps as a children’s omikoshi passed me on the street. The adults have their huge and probably pretty dangerous omikoshi or portable shrines, and some teams organize these tiny omioshi, often on wheels and pulled with ropes, for the youngest members of the community. Adults accompany the omikoshi and encourage the children to take full part, including screaming, chanting and drumming as much and as hard as they can. Since Japanese kids are much much more quiet than kids in all other countries I have visited, I think this screaming practice is good for them and their self confidence! And they sure look great in their patchwork festival outfits!
Japanese people often asks me why I am so much in love with festivals – and one answer I often forget to give is that festivals are one of the few times where it is ok for everyone, from children to old people to become visibly excited and enjoy themselves. It’s a day for the people of the city and not the buildings, shops or machines. So one of the things I love to photographs is just beautiful, happy, ordinary, smiling people! I wish we could have festivals every day, or that we lived our lives more in the spirit of festivals. The concept of festivals, where the people for once in their lives take control of the city and the streets (I have even seen ordinary citizens during festivals give directions to police and block the streets for police cars!) and enjoy themselves fits perfectly into the philosophy of Peter Lamborn Wilson’s (Hakim Bey) concept of immediatism, which was a way of thinking that I closely followed when I was younger and that I am coming more and more into contact with. Immediatism is a way of life and a philosophy of play rejecting the status and thrill seeking mindset of corporate consumerism. If you have time, I really recommend you to read the book that describes this philosophy. Japanese people don’t know it, but they are already very close in some aspects to this way of life. I will continue to move my life closer to immediatism and the happy smiles of people and festivals!
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!