Nearly 2 million people flood the streets of the district of Asakusa to take part in what’s considered one of the wildest and largest festivals in Japan. This festival, which usually takes place over the third full weekend in May, celebrates the three founders of Sensoji Temple. Throughout the entire weekend, you’ll find the streets brimming with tourists and locals, food stalls, and festival games, all while Japanese drums and flutes continuously serenade the crowd. It all begins on Friday afternoon with a large procession called Daigyoretsu Parade.
A Shinto ceremony is held immediately upon arrival at Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine. Dancers adorned in splendid costumes perform a traditional dance while holding unique instruments, called Binzasara, that have a similar vibe to an accordion but are made up of strung together bamboo. To round off the evening, the first of the more than one hundred portable shrines takes to the streets accompanied by Japanese musicians. These shrines, or mikoshi, symbolically carry the Shinto deities, bringing good fortune to the locals as they’re paraded through the streets all weekend long. The fun has only begun as Saturday features the mikoshi from the 44 neighborhoods of Asakusa.
The nearly one hundred shrines are also paraded to Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine then carried back to their neighborhoods to bring good luck. You’ll even see women and children carrying their shrines. Gear up early Sunday morning to watch a fascinating competition between the revelers, who will all be wearing matching festival garbs, vie to carry one of the three main mikoshi.
Spectators are not allowed past the entrance gates as the competition can get a little crazy, posing possible danger to outsiders. After a couple of hours of serious competition, the mikoshi are paraded off in different directions with the goal of passing through every street by the end of the day, finally ending back at Asakusa Shrine. “It’s a fool who dances and a fool who watches! If both are fools, you might as well have fun dancing!” You’ll know it’s Awa Odori when you hear these words being chanted throughout the streets of Tokushima City. Awa Odori is one of the Japanese traditional arts that has lasted for over 400 years. It is held nationwide from August 12-15th but none are larger than what you’ll find in Tokushima. This dance festival found its roots from a whole bunch of happy drunks attempting to dance while celebrating the newly built Tokushima Castle back in 1587. Thus the Awa Odori is characterized by energetic rhythm and irregular steps.
Folk dances are also performed to welcome the souls of ancestors in the Bon season. During the day you can find several dozen dancers on stage performing the famous Selected Awa Dance. By evening, excitement will build with great fervor all throughout the city. All sorts of musical instruments including drums and gongs and flutes fill the air. You’ll be hard pressed not to join in on the dancing. It’s simple! You just move your right arm forward with your right leg and then your left arm forward with your left leg to the rhythm.
“You might as well have fun dancing!” If you find yourself in Shikoku in the middle of October, don’t miss out on yet another festival full of culture and excitement. The Japanese like their chaotic celebrations! Gigantic gold floats with huge silver tassels in the shape of taiko drums are paraded along the streets, carried by men and boys as young as 16. These floats, representing the 47 neighborhood teams, weigh upwards of 2 tons. The main events of this festival involve “fighting” over who can perform some incredible feat with the float. You’ll see men attempting to throw the floats into the air or holding them up as long as possible to boast their strength.
The teams have been known to ram each others’ floats in an attempt to knock the other over. It’s really no surprise that this festival is often referred to as the Otoko Matsuri or “Men’s Festival.”