The Grand Kanda Myojin, the Greatest of all shrines in Tokyo is actually a conglomerate of several smaller shrines surrounding it. One of these shrines is the original Edo Shrine, and naturally their omikoshi (portable shrine) that carries the shrine gods is one of the biggest and most splendid in the capital. At the Kanda Matsuri it is taken out once every two years and as it enters the shrine precinct for the last time on the last evening, three men ride it in order to guide it properly to the priests waiting. The entrance of this omikoshi into the shrine is maybe the most eagerly awaited points of the festival, as over 200 locals guide carry it forward, not all at the same time, but naturally everyone wants to take part in this honorable endeavor so there is a lot of jostling to get the coveted places under the omikoshi!
As I watched several people around me were arguing whether one, two or maybe all three of them would fall of this year, as sometimes happen – the ride is everything but smooth! But one woman in the audience near us quieted everyone with a sharp “Hush you fools – no one is falling off this year!” And as you can see it turned out she was completely correct.
Being underneath even a small omikoshi is terrifying, but this one is huge! I can only imagine how scary it must be to be on top! Most of this omikoshi was made in Tokyo in 1958, but some parts have come all the way from Osaka. Both workshops are the most prestigious omikoshi makers in the country.
The great Tokyo Sanja Matsuri festival is a multi day event but the main days are the Saturday and the Sunday. This year the weather was not quite optimal for the Satuday which meant a little calmer a festival than usual but on Sunday the Sun was back with a vengeance and the weather as well as the festival were in excellent moods. Here are a few more snapshots, with no special meaning other than that I like them, taken around the Kaminarimon gate in front of the grand Sensoji temple in Asakusa.
The most famous aspect of Japan’s many festivals are without a doubt the gloriously decorated Omikoshi, the portable shrines that house the gods and get taken out for a spin around the parish during festival days. The often weigh as much as a ton and are often shouldered by a couple of dozen of the strongest and most enthusiastic people belonging to the shrine or neighborhood it represents so you can imagine that stopping one of these one it gets started can be a tricky business. A round around the neighborhood means plenty of stops and starts, and during the famous Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo’s Asakusa district one of the most important stops of them all is in front of the grand Kaminari gate! I happened to be just in front of the three headsmen of the omikoshi, as they stood on top the uma, the wooden posts where the omikoshi rests temporarily after stopping. Their job is to guide the omikoshi into the right position for the stop, and to signal the carriers to correct their course, speed up, slow down, revers or turn. Nobody much listens so it is the job of several lieutenants on the sides to steer and guide the omikoshi as it approaches the uma and the headsman. As I stood waiting the omikoshi made three attempts to approach the uma, twice coming up too far to the left or to the right and once nearly ramming the uma and the three headsmen, forcing them to hang on for dear life. As the omikoshi finally made it onto the uma the three headsmen were pulled backwards by assistants just in time to avoid falling or being squashed. At this point the headsmen usually stops to give a speech or accept a blessing from the local priests, but this being the Sanja matsuri and there being hundreds of omikoshi they barely had time to catch their breath before being ordered to go up and turn around again.
Watching all this is great is great fun but obviously there a is serious risk of injury if you get too close, and I took most of these photos without even looking at the omikoshi, being far more interested in checking that my back was free to escape if anything should come crashing towards me! I have never had to bolt so far but sooner or later!
Sanja Matsuri might be famous for its enthusiastic omikoshi crews, but this is still nothing compared to some festivals in Osaka where errant omikoshi has been known to literally go through house walls and cause irreparable damage to parked cars alone the procession route. Accidents happen almost every year, so be careful out there!
More photos from the great Sanja Matsuri (festival) last Saturday! The weather was not perfect, especially in the morning with a big of light rain, which I guess kept a few people from the festival. It wasn’t very crowded at all! The crowd returned with a vengeance on the Sunday though, which was as crowded as ever! The main action at the festival takes place around the smaller Asakusa Shrine next to Sensoji temple during the Saturday. The Sunday is all about Sensoji itself though.