May 19, 2013

Sanja Matsuri is taking place this weekend!

Hi everyone! 

It is getting warmer and warmer in Japan. When it is sunny, we feel even hot! 

May is one of the most comfortable months here. If you are living abroad, I'd like to recommend you to visit Japan around this time of the year. Not too hot, not too cold, lots of sunny days. Although sakura (cherry blossoms) is over in Honshu island, you can see them in Hokkaido, and also we have many festivals! 

One of the most famous festivals in Tokyo is Sanja Matsuri, which is currently taking place in Asakusa. 

The highlight is today, but we went to see the festival yesterday to avoid too much crowd. 

Sanja Matsuri is annually held on the third weekend of May. Though considered one of the three representative Edo festivals, this festival used to have a rough and wild image with the involvement of local yakuza.  

Until several years ago, we had thought that half-naked tattooed men (usually yakuza) dancing and yelling on the mikoshi (portable shrines) was a norm, or rather considered as the essential part of the festival. 

We knew that the festival that attracts 1,5 million tourists was an important financial source of yakuza, but took it as a matter of course. According to the survey conducted in 2007 by the Metropolitan Police Department, about 70 percent of mikoshi carriers were related to yakuza.

Since 2008, however,  the act that carriers mount on mikoshi has been banned, and since 2012 the organizers has requested yakuza not to wear a hanten matsuri jacket with the name of their "kumi" (group or organization) printed on the back.

If you'd like to know what it was like before, take a look at the photo blog of an amateur photographer Edokko! Sanja Matsuri.

I saw many guys with arm tattoos showing from their half-sleeved hanten jacket yesterday, but you don't have to be scared. They are enjoying the festival and usually don't do any harm to tourists. 

Many hochin lanterns with the name of the sponsors, usually small shops and restaurants in the Asakusa district are put up around the Asakusa Shrine, next to the famous Sensoji Temple.

After the purification, more than 100 mikoshi from each district leaves the Asakusa Shrine one after another to stroll the Asakusa area.

Musicians playing the festival music are also townspeople. They include small children.

Looking at people in matsuri jackets, kimono and hakama (trouser-like men's kimono) walking around, you may feel as if you were back in the Edo Period.

Today's useful expression: おみこしは どこで みられますか。 O-mikoshi wa dokode miraremasuka? Where can we see the mikoshi (portable shrines?)

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