Matsuri are the wonderful traditional (shrine) festivals in Japan. The Shinto Gods are believed to sit inside and be carried around in portable shrines, Mikoshi, for their satisfaction. This weekend on May 14th and 15th, one of the biggest ones in Japan will be held in Asakusa. Sanja Matsuri 三社祭. We have spotted foreign ladies carrying the Mikoshi, just like the Japanese folks, and wondered how that comes and if YOU might be allowed to join too.
To learn more, we interviewed well known expert Sasagawa Hideo in Asakusa. He runs a shop for Wagara 和柄 (Japanese textiles), Matsuri supplies and has a Matsuri Museum worth visiting in the second floor. Everybody is welcome. Now let him speak for himself.
Sasagawa: I love nothing more than Matsuri. Sanja Matsuri is one of the most important ones and people from all over Japan are gathering here. They come to Sensô-ji from as far as Hokkaido in the North and even Okinawa in the South.
SASAGAWA Hideo shows a photograph of the old Kaminarimon 雷門
Tulip: How can all those people participate, there must be a system, right?
Sasagawa: Yes. Each local area has a contingent of participants they may send, they are numbered.
Tulip: How can a foreigner enter a Matsuri as a participant?
Sasagawa: In the area you are living in / where the Matsuri will be, you must go to the local elders, traditional shops or the town council, Chôkai 町会, and tell them that you are interested. If they are fine with it, you get on the list.
Tulip: How about the traditional clothing all participants wear? Do you just buy any?
Sasagawa: You must wear clothing, like a uniform, from the very area sending you there. A Happi or Hanten (the jacket he wears in the pictures) for sure. They differ from place to place due to the symbols of the area or group on the back. Also dark shorts, Tabi and a headband.
Tulip: Ladies may carry the Mikoshi too?
Sasagawa: Absolutely! Traditionally, ladies had been not allowed. The Shinto-religion sees them as unclean. But nowadays they sure can. As far as I know, the change has started when ages ago a Geisha house one day decided to participate in a Matsuri. People thought that this was kinda cool. From that point on more and more ladies joined and now it is pretty normal.
Tulip: Can foreign ladies also enter other Matsuri as participants in Japan, let’s say in Kyôto?
Sasagawa: That depends on the area. If she is part of the neighborhood and / or asks the people in charge it is possible I believe. Some might not allow it though.
Tulip: Thank you so much for all the information!
To enjoy Sanja Matsuri, get to Asakusa from around 10am this Saturday and Sunday, don’t be much later.
You can visit Sasagawa-sensei and have a seat with him at the museum-floor. He is happy to tell and show you much much more.
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