May 19, 2017
By Brent Olian
On a bright and sunny Sunday on the third week of May, I had the pleasure of experiencing one of Tokyo’s three great Shinto festivals, Sanja Matsuri (三社祭/ Three Shrine Festival). The festival begins on Friday and lasts for three days, culminating in the most important day on Sunday.
What is unique about this festival, is that not only are the festivities limited to the hub of the Asakusa shrine, but are spread out all over the Asakusa area. Upon entering the area, I could immediately hear the sounds of taiko (太鼓, Japanese drums) welcoming me into the celebration. Everywhere I went, mikoshi (神輿 miniature shrines) were carried all throughout the area by different teams identifiable by their differently colored garments. These were accompanied by musical floats playing traditional Japanese drums and flutes.
There was a great sense of community present at the festival, something that can be difficult to find in a massive Metro area like Tokyo. Everyone, young and old alike participated in the festivities and created an all-around jovial atmosphere. Even I took part by following some of the shrines and clapped along/ did whatever I could to celebrate.
The juxtaposition of the traditional shrines and outfits in front of the backdrop of modern Tokyo was greatly striking. Old met new in a highly jarring yet pleasant way.
While large crowds would usually put a damper on things, they only served to liven up the atmosphere here. Overall, it was a truly enjoyable experience that can be appreciated by people from all walks of life.