There’s festivals, and then there’s The Festival with a capital F, the biggest and happiest traditional festival in Japan is the massive Sanja Matsuri held in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa district every year. Millions of people and tens of thousands of omikoshi carriers make this the place to be if you are into festivals. I was going over this year’s Sanja Matsuri photos when I found these that illustrate well the “scrum” of the omikoshi, how people are jostling, arguing, joking and teasing their way into the omikoshi with sometimes several hundred members per omikoshi (portable shrine)! Quite different from more local festivals in smaller villages and cities where there’s usually just enough people to get by. And there’s not one of these omikoshi, there’s hundreds of them parading around. It’s easy to get lost in taking photos and ending up cornered between to buildings in the middle of the scrum unable to get out. I saw this parade of omikoshi headed by musicians and after them a mostly female omikoshi with some lovely looking ladies! Look at the last few photos to get an idea of the amount of people, and then imagine the whole city looking like this, several blocks in every direction! Sanja Matsuri is so big I have several friends who refuse to go there because of the crowds, but I don’t mind. Can’t wait for next year’s Sanja festival!
It’s not very new anymore but I still make a point to go up to the top floor every time I pass, the new tourist information building in front of Asakusa’s famous Kaminarimon, the entrance gate to the huge Sensoji temple. I took these photos at the Sanja festival earlier this month, just as the dozens of omikoshi, portable shrines, leave the temple through the main street and spill out on the big scramble street crossing. It was fun to see it all from above, as I have been down there in the middle of it all many times, trying not to get trampled by the rickshaw pullers, the busses, the police cars and the omikoshi! I think it was the first time I ever saw an omikoshi from above like this.
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!