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Sanja Festival in Asakusa

The Sanja Matsuri is one of Tokyo's largest festivals. It is held every year over the third weekend of May in the Asakusa district, home to Sensoji Temple, one of Japan's oldest and most famous temples.

The festival is a celebration of the three founders of Sensoji Temple, Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari, and Hajino Nakatomo. The three men were fishermen who lived in the Asakusa area in the 7th century. They are said to have found a statue of the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokitesvara) floating down the Sumida River. They built a small shrine to house the statue, which became Sensoji Temple.

The Sanja Matsuri is a chaotic and colorful event. It features hundreds of portable shrines (mikoshi), which are paraded through the streets of Asakusa. The mikoshi are carried by men who are often pantless, a tradition dating back to the Edo period. The men believe that carrying the mikoshi without pants shows their devotion to the gods.

I DID NOT EXPECT TO SEE PANTLESS MEN when I decided to join the festivities with my camera. But I dove right in and proceeded to march along, dip in and out of groups, and shoot thousands of photographs. I’ve seen not only men but a lot of women, kids, and even the odd expat carrying the mikoshi in the scorching heat.

Tokyo is great for photographing events and crowds. I enjoyed shooting at Sakura viewing events in Ueno Park and Halloween celebrations around Shibuya, but Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa is my new favorite.


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