浅草

Some “downtown” characters form part of the organizing committee

men_sanjamatsuri
三社祭のまとめ係の人は、下町っぽいです。

These gentlemen look like they’ve participated in the Asakusa sanja matsuri many times before. They seem very much at home in Tokyo’s shitamachi, known for its traditional, Edo-influenced culture.

Wood and string toy provides old-fashioned challenge

balance_game_sanjamatsuri

剣玉は、伝統的な遊びです。

It’s nice to see the young people at the matsuri giving their smartphones a rest and enjoying some old-fashioned games, like kendama which involves catching a ball tied to two wood cups with a string.

Food and drink spill out into the street

sidewalk_drinking_sanjamatsuri

路上に、食べ物も飲み物もはみ出しています。ビールと霊的な行事は組み合わせがよさそうです。

Nearby commercial establishments put tables and chairs into the street. Beer and mixed drinks in cans seem to fuel the spiritual rites.

sidewalk_drinking2_sanjamatsuri

A clan assembles in front of Sky Tree in an Asakusa side street

skytree_sanjamatsuri
スカイツリーの前に、人が集まっています。御神輿は時代を通して変わらない儀式なようです。

Alongside the worship of local dieties, who are physically carried through the streets, Tokyo matsuris bring clans together and express group identity with matching jackets. Sky Tree in the background provides a contemporary marker to what feels like a timeless ritual .

Working class fashions include ink and hair dye

tattoo_sanjamatsuri

祭りでは、下町のファションが見られます。浅草の三社祭では、刺青が多いです。パンクのピンク色の髪もあります。

While much of “proper” Japan forbids the sight of tattoos, at festivals there is a proliferation of working class fashion, including large visible tattoos. I was equally struck by the long pink mane that makes the other fellow look like a punk version of My Little Pony. On-street drinking and smoking are also possible.

Festivals are the best part of summer in Tokyo

dog_sanjamatsuri

東京の夏は、祭りが一番楽しいです。通行止めにした路上に、大勢が集まって、たくさんの人が伝統的な服を着て、楽しい雰囲気です。

I love Tokyo when festivals bring neighbors into the street carrying portable shrines; eating, drinking and dancing on streets closed to traffic; and wearing traditional outfits. In May I went to Sanja matsuri in Asakusa as well as a festival at Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku.

Sky Tree at night, with willow tree in foreground

skytree_night_from_asakusa

浅草から、柳とスカイツリーが一緒に見えます。

Viewed from Asakusa, not only is Sky Tree bigger, but you can see more details of the lighting scheme.  From Nakano, you hardly notice the blue light, and the more subtle red trim. I also like how the willow references Tokyo’s Edo past, and Sky Tree, although newly built, appears to be a 1960s’ vision of the future.

Seeking prosperity with rakes, booze, hot glue, tattooed Kewpie

酉の市が大好きです。日本の神道では、神秘的なものと幸運を探しながら、熊手やお酒や入れ墨のキューピーからご利益を得られます。浅草はもっと伝統的ですが、花園神社は私の一番のパワースポットです。歌舞伎町と二丁目とデパート本店の間だから、とてもかっこい人が集まります。三十万円の熊手を見ました。去年私は千円のを買って、今年は二千円のにレベルアップしました。来年はすばらしい年になります。

I’ve written before how Tori no Ichi is one of my favorite festivals, with its focus on seeking spiritual intervention for a prosperous year. Perhaps Asakusa is a more traditional place, but I particularly love attending the festival at Hanozono shrine, mid-way between Kabukicho, Ni-chome, and the department stores. The crowd is Tokyo’s most beautiful people: the world of late night drinkers, huge hair for men and women, animal prints, and shiny fabrics.

If it weren’t for the food stalls, it would be easy to miss the entrance on Yasukuni Dori, with the fiver rows of lanterns barely competing with the neon, fluorescent signage, and hundreds of taxis.

The focal point of the festival are the “kumade,” which are good luck rakes made of bamboo, rice, (often artificial) pine, and paper and plastic good luck charms hot glued. There are dozens of stalls, and the most expensive ones need to be carried out by two men. The one below cost 300,000 yen (almost US $4,000).

In addition to kumade sellers, there are many regular festival food stalls, and also make-shift drinking establishments with tables and chairs. I like how the one below wraps around a mature tree.

The convergence of spirituality, drinking and materialism is dizzying. The proprietress of this food and drink stall is wearing a headband full of cash.

Almost anything can represent good fortune. I love how this Kewpie doll, the mascot of Japan’s #1 mayonnaise, also has a headband of cash and a full body tattoo. There seems to be an even higher than usual correlation between this festival and the yakuza who are its sellers and celebrants.

Even the children’s cartoon Anpan man (his head is a round anko bread that can be eaten when necessary) can be incorporated into the rake.