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The Asakusa Sanja Festival Draws 1.5 Million Visitors Yearly

Posted By on Jun 2, 2014

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In May, you can see lots of lanterns hung everywhere and hear Japanese traditional music for festivals in the town of Asakusa (浅草). The atmosphere of the area becomes very festive and exciting.

That is because, every year in Asakusa, a festival is held for three days starting from the third Friday of May. This festival, called the Sanja Festival (三社祭) has been a tradition for over 700 years, and is the biggest event in Asakusa. Around 1.5 million people come to participate yearly from all over Japan, as well as some tourists.

So just what is so great about this festival?

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In Japanese, “san” means three, so it is believed that this “san” in the name Sanja represents the three people who helped to establish the foundation of The Asakusa Temple.

The festival involves portable shrines, with deities inside, that get carried around the town. I say carried, but as each shrine weighs about 1 ton, it takes a lot of man power to transport them, so each shrine is carried by 120 people. As they lug these giant shrines, they thank the deity of water named “Sanja sama”, while they also ask for fertility. Sanja-sama had long been worshiped both in Asakusa Temple and Asakusa Shrine until the Meiji era when the separation of Buddhism and Shintoism started.

The start of the festival is marked by a dance called “Binzasara Dance (びんざさら舞)”. This is for praying for a good harvest and casting away evil spirits. It is a wonderful piece of cultural heritage and you cannot see the dance anywhere else but at the Sanja Festival.

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After will be the mikoshi, or portable shrine parade. This event is one you won’t want to miss! They do one parade in the daylight, and then they do another one on the first day of the festival at night. This one is absolutely stunning as you’ll see the town lit up by lanterns. Since Sanja Festival is mainly famous for its daytime parades, the yomiya, night parade, seems to be a little less known, but it’s my favorite part of the festival. Don’t miss it!

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Regardless of when you go, do prepare for some crowds and be mindful of those around you. Make sure not to get in the way of anyone trying to transport one of the giant shrines!

If you want to see the festival from the best angle, especially for taking photos, I recommend walking behind the portable shrines to enjoy the festival to its fullest.

Address: Asakusa, Tokyo

[posted by Beth]

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Beth Williams

Originally from Chicago, Beth got her first true taste of travel when she studied abroad in Japan during her final year of university. She ended up loving Asia so much, she found herself moving right back upon graduating and is currently teaching English full-time in Hong Kong. Armed with her camera and a passion for travel, she is currently on a mission to photograph the world-- proving that you can work the normal “9-5” and still find time to travel on her blog Besudesu Abroad.

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