Festival season

Several of Tokyo’s biggest festivals are set for May, so we braved the sea of humanity to join in the revelry!

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Sanja matsuri at Asakusa shrine

Most of these mikoshi festivals start for us with the crowd flow out of the subway stop.  There’s almost no need to consult the map in advance, just join the steam of other camera-toting folks.

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Lining up before the Kanda shrine

The Kanda matsuri is usually every two years, but it wasn’t held in 2011 because of the March 2011 disasters, so this was the first run in four years.  The crowds at the bottom of the street leading to the temple were so packed, there was a queue of mikoshi groups at the bottom waiting their turn and trying to keep the rest of us from elbowing our way into their midst.

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Eventually, even the most tightly-packed crowds move forward, and we begin shuffling toward the main shrine where the portable mikoshi shrine pause briefly for a blessing and head off down one of the side streets to share the good luck for another year. (A short video)

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Shrine-front procession at Kanda

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Sanja matsuri blessing in front of Senso-ji temple

Generally, we stick around for a few of the exits.  The crews that carry these shrines are unbelievably chipper and energetic considering how squished together they are and how heavy the mikoshi are. They generally have a buffer ring of supporters that prevent them from inadvertently staggering off the path, bopping stray tourists in the head with the poles, or ramming the mikoshi in front of them.

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Mashed-up but merry mikoshi bearers

Most of the groups are adults, with the occasional kid on shoulders. But sometimes there are kid-only mikoshi which always get a big cheer from the crowds.

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Matsuri munchkins

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Enjoying the rare sensation of elbow room

Naturally, what would a festival be without food? What am I going to do without readily available grilled squid on a stick? Somehow I don’t see that coming to DC festivals any time soon, so I think I’m going to have to eat my fill from here on in…

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Grilled squid! nomnomnom

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