Sanja Matsuri / 三社祭

Sanja Matsuri (三社祭) is one of the three great Shinto festivals of Edo (江戸) and has been celebrated the same way each year since approximately 1605. The name "Sanja" (三社), however, comes from a much earlier period when present day Asakusa Shrine (浅草神社), the center of the festival, used to be called Sanja Daigongen Shrine (三社大権現神社). For this reason some scholars say that the origins of the festival probably date back before the 17th century. Edo is now called Tokyo, and Sanja Daigongen Shrine is now called Asakusa Shrine, but the ancient celebration continues on. Yesterday I was finally able to join the party for the first time!

In order to understand what's happening here it's important to learn a little about the tradition. During most Japanese Shrine Festivals ("Matsuri" / 祭り), Shrine Parishioners, or "Ujiko" (氏子) are seen carrying portable shrines called "Mikoshi" (神輿) on their shoulders. When a festival is held, the god who's enshrined in the Shrine leaves the main Shrine building and rides around the neighborhoods in a Mikoshi. This allows the deities to come out and be close to their Ujiko, building a sense of togetherness and communal spirituality. The music performed, as well as the vigorous motion of the Mikoshi are to provide entertainment for the god as a show of thanks for participating in the neighborhoods' festival. Mikoshi are very heavy-- much heavier than they appear even, because the framework of long wooden support beams that secure the shrines are as heavy as the shrines themselves! Sanja Matsuri boasts some of the largest of these portable shrines in Tokyo (maybe in Japan?), and that's why there are so many folks working together to carry them.

Asakusa is a particularly awesome place to enjoy a Shrine Festival and this year's Sanja Matsuri was no exception. The weather was beautiful, and all of the neighborhoods that form Asakusa Shrine's community of Ujiko were alive with a sense of celebration and excitement! I've been wanting to see the Sanja Matsuri for years so I'm pretty elated and enjoying the afterglow of the centuries-old celebration.

Sanja Matsuri is held every year on the third weekend in May. The first day (Saturday) is largely centered around the main buildings of Asakusa Shrine. On the second day (Sunday) the festivities are spread out throughout the streets of the local neighborhoods.
I took nearly 300 photos at this celebration, but I selected the 60 best photos and put them in a photo album for all of you. For any of my readers who are interested, I invite you to have a look at them here.

In the meantime, please enjoy this Sanja Matsuri video that I made!

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