Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo Japan
Religious in origin, Sanja Matsuri is primarily a festival of celebration. The atmosphere around Asakusa Japan during the weekend of the festival is charged and energetic. People continuously flood the streets surrounding the Sensō-ji and flutes, whistles, chanting and taiko (traditional Japanese drums) can be heard throughout the district.
The festival's main attractions are three Asakusa Shrine-owned mikoshi that appear on the third and final day of the festival. These three elaborate, black lacquered-wood shrines are built to act as miniature, portable versions of Asakusa Shrine. Decorated with gold sculptures and painted with gold leaf each mikoshi weighs approximately one ton and cost ¥40 million. They are carried on four long poles lashed together with ropes, and each needs approximately 40 people dispersed evenly to safely carry them. Throughout the day, a total of about 500 people participate in carrying each shrine.
Because of the importance of these three mikoshi, they are spectacles as they are carried through the streets. The areas immediately surrounding each shrine are busy with people, and as they are carried, they are shaken and bounced vehemently. This action is believed to intensify the power of the kami that are seated in the shrines and helps to bestow good luck upon their respective neighborhoods. It is not unusual for there to be someone standing on the poles supporting the mikoshi shouting and waving in order to help direct the people carrying the shrine. This sense of direction can be essential when trying to keep the one ton mikoshi from accidentally colliding with street-side shops and causing considerable damage.
While the three primary mikoshi are the most important objects roaming the streets during the Sanja Matsuri, approximately 100 other smaller mikoshi are paraded through the neighborhood on Saturday. Of these shrines, several are solely carried by women or small children. (Source: Wikipedia)
photos: bruce behnke