You can’t say they didn’t warn us. The organizers of Asakusa’s huge, annual Sanja Matsuri (festival) have been trying for years to discourage overzealous participants from riding on top of the three main mikoshi (portable shrines) that they are supposed to carry on their shoulders during the three-day festival’s climactic parade.
Before last year’s event, the organizers promised that if such “profane” disrespect was again inflicted on the sacred mikoshi, which are the property of Asakusa Shrine, the parade in question would be scrapped.
Needless to say, neither the organizers’ threats nor a significant police presence were sufficient to discourage local residents (known as ujiko in this close-knit community) and unruly outsiders (most probably members of the yakuza — which tends to see the festival as a chance to strip off and reveal their tattoos) from jumping on top of the mikoshi and damaging one of its carrying poles in the process.
The result? This weekend, festival fans are faced with the odd prospect of a Sanja Matsuri without the main parade — something akin to Mardi Gras without the floats, Christmas without Santa Claus, or a football game without the ball.
While a number of formal ceremonies will take place at Asakusa Shrine (which is located just to the east of the more famous Sensoji Temple) each day from Friday through Sunday, it looks like the main attraction will be a combined parade put on by up to 44 local town associations on Saturday afternoon.
Starting from 12:30 p.m at the plaza behind Sensoji Temple, this parade will see each of the town associations carry their own mikoshi through the streets of Asakusa to the east, west and south of the temple. As the associations are likely to be more liberal than the shrine officials, chances are that visitors will get the chance to see some of the fabled-but- forbidden mikoshi-riding, too. And if so, who knows, Sanja Matsuri 2008 might just end up being a spectacle after all.
Further details at www.sanjasama.jp