The Kanda Matsuri is one of Tokyo’s three biggest festivals. In the past, I’ve always gone on the final Sunday, when portable shrines are being paraded through the traditional neighborhoods around Kanda in the center of the city. This year, however, I went to check out the procession of people dressed in traditional costumes, which is held on Saturday.
It’s quite a different feeling from the great masses of humanity, cacaphony, and suffering faces of mikoshi carriers that you get on Sunday. This is basically a religious procession, and has a much more solemn atmosphere than the Sunday event.
The procession was led by a tengu, a mythical goblin-like creature. (Click here for a fascinating explanation of their origins, and why they have a long nose.)
Last year I saw a guy walking around in Shinjuku on shoes like this and was really curious about why he was wearing such unusual footwear. Maybe he was practicing to be a tengu in a festival like this one. These one-tooth geta are called tengu geta. There’s some interesting information about walking in them here.
Saturday has lots of kids mikoshis. Mikoshi festivals are quite rowdy, and my former-homestay family, who went to carry them almost every weekend during the summer, said that that fights used to be extremely common between rival groups, and still happen more often than you might think. I guess they have the kids out on a different day for safety reasons.
Money saving tip!
If you go to a shrine for a blessing, you can pay tens of thousands of yen to get one of these haraegushi waved over your head a couple of times. This guy was purifying people all day for free.
The festival is said to have begun in the early 1600s as a celebration of Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory at the battle of Sekigahara, which led to the unification of Japan. It was held every year until the late 1600s, but the shogun of the time decided that it had become too extravagent, and so it became a semi-annual event. In the present day, it is held in odd numbered years, and the Sanno festival is held in even-numbered years.
The festival has its own website with detailed information about all the events. You can also download a useful map that shows where the procession will be throughout the day. Unfortunately, the site is in Japanese only. http://www.kandamyoujin.or.jp/kandasai/h21/index.html