After we had our fill of the Tsukiji Fish Market, we caught the subway to Asakusa for the Sanja Matsuri festival, which is one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo. The Sanja Matsuri is a three-day festival that is held every year on the third weekend of May. The festival officially starts on Friday with a large parade through Asakusa.
On Saturday, approximately 100 mikoshi, small portable shrines, from the 44 Asakusa districts pass through the Kaminarimon, outer entrance gate (shown above), and are paraded through the Nakamisedori (corridor of small Japanese shops), past the Sensoji temple and on to the Askakusa shrine, where they are blessed and carried back to their respective neighborhoods.
On Sunday, participants from all 44 Asakusa districts, grouped by neighborhoods and wearing matching attire, gather at the Asakusa Shrine. The groups compete to carry three main Asakusa mikoshi, honoring the three men responsible for founding the Sensoji. I’ve read online that it gets so crowded that spectators are not allowed beyond Sensoji’s entrance gate due to safety and space concerns. The three main mikoshi are then paraded separately through all the streets of Asakusa visiting each of the 44 districts before returning to the shrine.
Although we arrived before the festival’s Saturday activities officially started, there were already tons of people in and around the area. We started at the Kaminarimon and maneuvered our way through the crowds past the shops on Nakamisedori and headed in the direction of the Sensoji temple.
While we were browsing the shops of the Nakamisedori several mikoshi made our way past us. I particularly liked the mikoshi that were carried by children. The kids were so cute!
When we reached the entrance area in front of the Senso-ji temple, we took a small break and picked up an omikuji, a written fortune, for Connor. According to the instructions posted at the Senso-ji temple, the omikuji here cost 100 yen, which you deposit into a small collection box. Then, while praying for your wish, you shake an omikuji box several times until a single wooden stick pops out of a small hole in the box. The wood stick has a number from 1-100 corresponding to a particular drawer containing fortunes. You then find and take a paper fortune from the respective drawer.
If you get a good fortune, then you take it home. However, if you get a bad fortune, you were supposed to leave it at the temple by tying the bad fortune onto one of the iron wires strung between a wooden frame nearby.
Ev and I decided to give it a shot and wished for Connor to have good health this year. We shook the box and a stick with the number 80 came out. We open drawer number 80 and received an “Excellent Good Fortune”! 🙂 Connor’s fortune stated:
*Your request will be granted. *The patient will get well. *The person you wait for will come. *Building a new home and removal are both well. *The lost article will be found. *It is good to start a trip. *Marriage of any kind and new employment are both well but be not too excessive.
After reading the fortune, I joked, saying that maybe we should have wished for something bigger, like winning the lottery or something. I suppose that would have been too greedy. Also, I would give all the money in the world to keep Connor safe and healthy, so I guess our wish was the right call. Ev’s dad on the other hand wasn’t so lucky. He got a bad fortune and had to leave his fortune at the Temple. We all had a good laugh and then moved to the main hall of the Sensoji Temple.
As we reached the main hall, two mikoshi arrived at the base of the building and we were able to get a good view of them. I noticed that the mikoshi often came in sets (like shown in the picture below), the adults carried one, while the children would carry a smaller version.
After watching the mikoshi for a while, we continued up the steps into main hall. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so I don’t have any. However, even if I could have taken pictures, there were so many people in there I doubt I would have gotten a good picture anyway. It was hard to get to the front where the big donation box was located, and people from about 15-20 feet behind the box were just throwing their money over the heads of the people in front of them. By that time, Connor needed to take a nap. We did not have our stroller with us, so we found a shady spot to lay Connor down while he napped.
We used that time as a nice opportunity to people watch and take turns browsing rows of food stands selling a variety of foods including shave ice, yakisoba, and tako yaki. We didn’t want to eat too much though because Ev promised to take us to Kikanbo, a very highly rated ramen restaurant that Ev had been talking about for weeks, after Connor woke up from his nap. However, Ev couldn’t resist buying a charcoal grilled ayu on a stick for 500 yen.
When Connor woke up, we made our way back to the Asakusa station to our next adventure.
I wish I could say that when I booked our flight, I knew about the Sanja Matsuri festival and had planned everything perfectly. In truth, I had no idea that we’d be in Tokyo during a major festival, and it was pure luck that we were there on that exact weekend. It was a fortunate coincidence, and I am so glad that we got to see the festival. I could have easily spent the entire afternoon walking around the shops of the Nakamisedori and eating all the delicious food available.
Overall, a visit to Asakusa should be on all first-timer’s lists of places to visit in Tokyo. The shopping streets are lined with local specialty and souvenir shops and the Sensoji Temple is one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. Also, I would highly recommend seeing the Sanja Matsuri if you happen by luck to be in Tokyo on the third weekend in May.
- Kaminarimon – Free
Hours: Always Open
- Sensoji Temple – Free
Hours: 6:00 – 17:00
- Nakamisedori and Shin-Nakamisedori Shopping Streets
Hours depend on individual shops; typically from 10:00 – 20:00