Tokyobling's Blog

Sanjamatsuri – Asakusa’s Mega Event

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 4, 2014

It is finally the month of May and with it the biggest annual event in Tokyo – the Sanjamatsuri (三社祭)! From May 16th to May 18th about two million people will crowd in and around the famous Sensoji temple in the Asakusa district. In fact the festival gets so massively crowded that I know many locals who refuse to visit Asakusa as long as the festival goes on. It isn’t actually that bad, and even though there are over 100 omikoshi (portable shrines) in the area they are quite spread out at times. Of course, the closer you get to the action the more crowded it gets. Opportunities to get lost or separated from friends are everywhere. I took these photos near the closing of the festival on the evening of the third day last year. Considering myself a bit of a veteran on the subject of the Sanjamatsuri, here are some pieces of advice if you want to make the most of your visit:

1. Do be aware of your surroundings. The omikoshi can turn surprisingly fast and a full set of omikoshi and carriers weigh well over a couple of tons and are notoriously difficult to control. If you get stuck between a more or less out of control omikoshi and a hard place the omikoshi will win every time, no matter how much you protest! Several accidents occur every year although usually among the participants themselves. Always consider your escape routes. Your safety is 100% your own responsibility.

2. Do eat and drink locally. Support the many businesses and people living in the area by enjoying their service. Prices do not go up during the festival and even tiny little mom and pop back alley restaurants get lively and crowded. Now is the chance to try all those little places you would normally be too shy to visit. There are also stalls just about everywhere selling hot food, cold drinks and anything in between.

3. Pick pockets. While Japan is famously safe no matter how you look at it, this sense of safety can lull you into taking unnecessary risks. While the festival itself is relatively free of pick pockets, the trains leading to stations around the festival are not. Make sure you have all your stuff!

4. Traffic. Needless to say, you will be very unlikely to find a parking spot within miles of the festival. Leave the car at home. Surprisingly many drivers are totally unaware of the festival though, and not all of the area is closed of for traffic. Again, you do not want to be smacked by a bus when you are busy avoiding being run over by an omikoshi!

5. Do explore the side streets. There is so much stuff going on and the are actually covered by the festival is so huge that even if you hate crowds you will enjoy the festive atmosphere away from the main streets. There are omikoshi spread out virtually everywhere and during lulls in the ceremonies even main streets are not much more crowded than during a Saturday afternoon in peak tourist season.

6. Getting there: The obvious choice would be to use the Asakusa station on the Ginza line, but other good stations that might be better choices are the Tawaramachi station also on Ginza line or the Kuramae Station on the Oedo line. If you come in from the north the Tsukuba express Asakusa station is also a good choice. Having strong legs and not being afraid of walking you can use the Ueno station, Iriya station or the Tokyo Skytree stations that are about a mile away.














2 Responses

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  1. Timi said, on May 7, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    That bird is so majestic, I really love it! Pretty well made and feels like itt will fly away..


    • tokyobling said, on May 8, 2014 at 3:19 am

      Isn’t it? You can tell by the wings of the bird (it is called an ootori) whether it is made for western or for eastern Japan. (^-^)


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