Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo Asakusa

In my last post I showed you Asakusa in Tokyo, and I showed you the temples, but also some interesting streets. But what I didn’t tell you was that the famous „Sanja Matsuri“ was taking place! A matsuri is a type of festival….

Festival goers dressed in summery clothing, yukata, Asakusa, Tokyo, Sanja Matsuri
Festival goers dressed in summery clothing (yukata)

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The historic Sanja Matsuri (三社祭)

The Sanja Matsuri (literal meaning: Three-Temple-Festival) in Asakusa takes place every third weekend in May. During the Matsuri, respects are paid to the three founders of the Sensō-ji. If you want to read more about the founding of this temple, then you should first read the blog about Asakusa. The is also one of the three largest festivals in Tokyo. About 2 million festival goers take part from Friday to Sunday.

It was unbelievably full, but to realize that it could be so many people was really hard to believe. Maybe it eas hard to realize because it ran so smoothly and we never had the feeling of being mashed in a crowd.

Mikoshi, sanjs matsui, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
Mikoshi, sanjs matsui, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan

The festival goes back into the seventh century. In that time, it was also known as „Kannon Matsuri“ or „Asakusa Matsuri“. The current style of the Sanja Matsuris is still happening per tradition since the Edo Period. The construction of the Asakusa temple began in 1649 and as such laid the foundatin for the festival. Today almost 100 Mikoshi (miniature portable temples) are carried by the union of the local residents through the streets, being lifted and dropped in a rhythmic fashion. In the temples little Shinto-God figures, which are supposed to bring the residents and attendants good luck and good business. The Asakusa temple is the largest of the three Mikohi. These are displayed on Sunday.

The Sanja Matsuri Today

The festival begins on Friday with the Big Parade (Daigyōretsu, 大行列). Priests, city officials, musicians, geishas and dancers all participate, wearing costumes from the Edo-period. The parade ends at the Sensō-ji and Asakusa temple with a Shinto ceremony. After the ceremony a traditional dance is done, that is supposed to bring a bountiful harvest.  In the evening the first six Mikoshi are carried through the street.One such shrine weighs several hundred kilograms and is always carried by many men and sometimes women. Each group of the carriers wears the festival costume, called a Happi. But there are also differences within the groups, so newcomers to the group are wearing distinct jackets compared to the seasoned participants.

People carry a mikoshi, sanja matsuri, asakusa, tokyo, japan
Carrying a Mikoshi is hard work
People carry a mikoshi, sanja matsuri, asakusa, tokyo, japan
A Mikoshi on the streets of Asakusas

On Saturday the nearly 100 Mikoshi from the 44 neighborhoods in the area are carried through the districts. The carriers bring to the Sensō-ji and Asakusa-Temple, where they are blessed, before they are then carried back into their places of residence. That is where they are supposed to harbor their luck and good fortunes.

As mentioned the three most important Mikoshi are carried through the cities on Sunday. Sunday activities begin at 6 am. Hundreds of celebrating participants, joined as neighborhood groups, compete to have the honor of carrying one of the three important Mikoshi. Visitors are not allowed to visit the temple during these festivals during this time. The three main temples are carried through the streets starting at about 8 am and through all 44 neighborhoods, before returning to Sensō-ji.

Qatar AirwaysAround the Sanja Matsuri

During the Sanja Festival relatives also take an important place. As you saw in the blog about Asakusa, you can buy a lot to eat at the Nakamise Dori. In addition there are more stands around the temple grounds. We ate a good breakfast, but I still wanted to try a portion of Takoyaki at all costs! The squid balls tasted really good, but other things weren’t as delicious by comparison. Some of the drink stands try to sell really odd drinks to the customers, like „Blood conserver“ (Tenteki Juice) or colorful drinks in lightbulbs.

Colorful juice in lightbulbs
Takoyaki – octopus balls

 While meandering around we saw a small stage, where musicians were seated and playing music using traditional instruments. Geishas also made appearances, but we somehow missed this. It would have cost money to see them anyway.

Musicians of the Sanja Matsuri

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In one of the shopping strips there was a Mikoshi that I could look at closely. They are really extremely detailed and decorated with wonerdful embellishments. Often there are pictures, like of cranes on them.

Details on a Mikoshi
Details on a Mikoshi

Even when the three days had nearly 2 million visitors, i somehow never felt like it was uncomfortable or full. The Düsseldorf carneval at  is definitely far worse in this respect! If you ever have the chance, you should definitely view these three Matsuri! In 2019 it takes place again on 17-19th of May.

Do you know the Sanja Matsuri, or were you already at a Matsuri festival in Japan? Leave me a note about it. And if you liked this post, don’t forget to share it!

My ultimate Must-Sees list of Asakua, Tokyo

Asakusa (jap. 浅草, pronounced Asak’sa, flat grass) lies just east of the center of the Taitō region. This area is known above all for being home to the oldest buddhist temple in Tokyo, Sensō-ji (浅草寺).

In the neighboring Asakusa-shrine (jap. 浅草神社, Asakusa-jinja) the three men who are credited with building of the Sensō-ji are remembered.

Map of Asakusa
Over the Rooftops of Asakusa

Your trust in me is very important! This article contains recommended links (Affiliate-Links). If you book a hotel or buy a product via one of these links, I get a small commission. You arent charged extra, and at the same time you support this blog. Thank you! Tanja

History of Asakusas

Legend has it, that in the year 628, 2 fishermen brother fished out a small statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon in the Sumida river.  After they repeatedly threw it back into the river, but continued to re-catch it in their net, the village head realized the statue must be holy. As a result, a temple was made for the statue, the Sensō-ji, where the statue is still revered to this day. Over the years the temple was repeatedly destroyed, and re-built. It served as the main temple for various sects, but is today the house of its own display.

In 1649 Tokugawa Iemitsu created the Asakusa Shrine, to honor the three men who built the Sensō-ji. Today the shrine is the stage for many Matsuris, and the Sanja-Matsuri is one of the three largest in Tokyo.

Up until the second world war the Asakusa region was known as a cultural center, with lots of Kabuki- and Rakugo theaters. After the Meiji-Restoration, though, more and more western theaters appeared here and also later cinemas. After the end of WW2 other regions like Shinjuku have since taken over the claim to be eastern cultural centers.

The temple layout of Asakusa

Maybe it has occurred to those who looked at the japanese writing more closely that the symbols for Sensō-ji and Asakusa appear very similar. This is not coincidence, because senso is an alternative reading of the symbol for Asakusa. „Ji“ means temple.

In front of the temple is a 250m long street, that is surrounded by many little shops, called Nakamise Shopping Street (仲見世商店街). The little shops contain souvenirs, food, instruments, porcelain, chopsticks and much more. When you stop at the Asakusa station, you automatically enter this tourist spot. Just follow the masses of people toward the Kaminarimon (雷門). The tourist street is just behind this.

Kaminarimon, Thunder Gate, Asakusa, Japan
Kaminarimon, the Thunder Gate
Nakamise Shopping Street, Asakusa, Japan
Nakamise Shopping Street
Nakamise Shopping Street, Asakusa, Japan
Nakamise Shopping Street

The actual temple territory starts at Hōzōmon (宝蔵門). West of the (from the right) of the gate is the 53m tall Five Storey Pagoda (五重塔), Hondo (main hall, 本堂) of the Sensō-ji. The Hōzōmon is somewhat smaller than the thunder gate, but still just as impressive. East of this is the actual Asakusa-Temple. We skipped this on our tour so there aren’t any special pictures of it here.

Hōzōmon, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
Five Storey Pagode, Asakusa, Japan, Tokyo
Five Storey Pagoda
Hondo (Main hall) of the Sensō-ji, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
View of the Hondo (Main hall) of the Sensō-ji

The temple als has a small park area, where many smaller buddhist temples and statues can be found. Of course there are also many small ponds and lakes, where you can see colorful koi carps – so don’t miss the park while you’re there!

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Creek in the Park of Sensō-ji, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
Creek in the Park of Sensō-ji in Asakusa

Hours of operation:
Main hall: 6:00-17:00 (April-Sept.) and 6:30 -17.00 (Okt.-März)
Temple: Always open


What else is in Asakusa?

I’m not a fan of rushing from one tourist attraction to the next. Usually you find nice things around the corner of each attraction. Asakusa offers more than just the temple grounds; many little streets are inviting to explore. If you are hungry, you can find many restaurants.

In the Hanayashiki (花やしき) recreatinal park you can ride a carousel or rollercoaster. The Hanayashiki amusement park is the oldest amusement park in Japan. Entrance is 1000 yen, but each attraction needs to be paid separately for (additional 100 yen) – however you can get a Free Ride Pass and then you don’t have to pay for the carousel.  Since I’m not a particular fan of amusement parks, my boyfriend either – we didn’t visit this one. We instead looked at many Manga and Anime shops.

Many small and covered shopping streets welcome you to relax and spend your money. Here are many shops and restaurants again. Well regardless of anything, you’ll never go hungry in Japan.

Getting to Askusa

Using Tokyo Metro: Stop Asakusa Station (Route: Ginza oder Asakusa Tram) Careful: The Tokyo 24 ticket does not include the Asakusa stop!
With Skytree Line: Stop Asakusa
With Tsukuba Express: Stop Asakusa Station (not the same as Metro Station)

Metro Map of Tokyo, on the top right there is Asakusa

Hotel-Tips Asakusa

Up to 50€: Hostels with a common sleeping area
Bunka Hostel Tokyo
K’s House Tokyo – Backpackers Hostel

Up to 150€
Richmond Hotel Premier Asakusa International
Wired Hotel

Above 150€
B:CONTE Asakusa
The Gate Hotel Asakusa Kaminarimon by Hulic
Ryokan Asakusa Shigetsu

Have you ever been to Asakusa or other places in Tokyo? What are your must sees in Asakusa? Please leave a comment and don’t forget to share this blog post on Facebook, Pinterest or Flipboard.

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