Get Into the Summer Spirit with Tokyo's "Three Great Festivals of Edo"

Tokyo Entertainment Kanda matsuri 2019.05.20
Get out into the sun and celebrate with the Tokyoites!

In Japan, Summer Is the Season of Traditional Festivals and Fireworks!

As the Tokyo weather heats up, Tokyoites begin to flee their stuffy offices and classrooms to feel the cool breeze outside. For some, that means throwing on their lightweight yukata (not heavy kimono!) and going to watch fireworks. But the most exciting summer activities are undoubtedly the traditional festivals that take place all over Japan during the summer.

Kanda Festival: One of Japan's Big 3

The Kanda Shrine is a major Shinto spot in Tokyo, and its biennial festival is a big deal. The Kanda Festival, or Kanda Matsuri (神田祭) has been going on long enough that it was already a big deal back when Tokyo was known as Edo (which is why these are the "Great Festivals of Edo!) While today we're discussing Tokyo's major festivals, the Kanda Festival has also been named one of Japan's three major festivals, so it's known nationwide.

Many festivals of all sizes include processions where teams of locals will carry portable shrines, "mikoshi" (神輿), on their shoulders. These little shrines are usually lavishly decorated and beautiful, and they are definitely very heavy, but they have to be small enough that groups of people can carry them. The Kanda Festival also includes larger versions around the size of a car! The smaller mikoshi and the larger parade-floats make their way through the streets of Tokyo, guided by enthusiastic festival participants.  Traditionally the Kanda Festival and Sanno Festival are both biennial festivals, and alternate years! This year (2019) the Kanda Festival has already begun, but you can start planning for 2021 now!

Kanda Festival
Event Dates: May 9, 2019 ~ May 15, 2019
Location: Kanda Shrine, 2 Chome-16-2 Sotokanda, Chiyoda City, Tokyo
Access: 5 min. walk from Ochanomizu Station or Shinochanomizu Station. 7 min. walk from Akihabara Station.
Official Website

Sanno Festival: Richly Ornamented and Beautiful

The Sanno Festival also has a long history, beginning in the Edo Era. It started out as an annual festival of the Hie Shrine in Akasaka, and with support from the shogunate then in power, paraded through the city and even Edo Castle. It's still going strong today, and now it's popular with those who want to admire the traditional outfits of festival participants, and the really beautiful mikoshi and parade floats. Lasting about 10 days, the Sanno Festival still starts at the Hie Shrine, and winds its way through the city, complete with 500 people in traditional court costume. Alternating years with the Kanda Festival, the next Sanno Festival will be in 2020, so before attending the Tokyo Olympics, spend some time admiring Japan's rich traditions!

Sanno Festival
Event Dates: June 7 ~ June 17
Location: Hie Shrine, 2 Chome-10-5 Nagatacho, Chiyoda City, Tokyo
Access: 5 min. walk from Kokkaigijidomae Station, 8 min. walk from Akasaka Station or Akasakamitsuke Station
Official Website

Fukagawa Hachiman Festival: The "Water Splashing Festival"

The final Great Festival of Edo is also the latest in the year, as the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival usually starts around August 15th. In the midst of hot and humid August weather, you may be excited to find that this festival is also nicknamed the "Water Splashing Festival" because it includes the tradition of splashing the festival participants, those carrying mikoshi in the parade, with lots and lots of water! Hopefully it cools them down while they carry the heavy structures on their shoulders. Every three years a special imperial carriage joins the ranks of the parade, making it a special "hon-matsuri." Maybe you'll get lucky and be there for one!

Fukagawa Hachiman Festival
Event Dates: usually around August 15th (dates not yet announced)
Location: Tomioka Hachiman Shrine, 1 Chome-20-3 Tomioka, Koto City, Tokyo
Access: 3 min. walk from Monzen Nakacho Station, 15 min. walk from Ecchujima Station
Official Website

So, are you feeling that summer heat yet? Ready to go see some portable mikoshi shrines glitter in the sunlight, or mikoshi bearers get soaked? The summer festivals this year have already begun, but there's still plenty remaining, and they're a great way to get into the Japanese spirit!

(If you're reading this article right when it comes out, you have time to make it to Asakusa's Sanja Festival. It may not be one of the "Great Festivals" of Tokyo, but in our hearts it's top 3 worthy! Definitely worth a look if you're in Tokyo.) 

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