By Mike Sullivan.
The Kanda Festival, or Kanda Matsuri, is a very famous event which takes place in mid May in odd numbered years, for example as this year is 2014 it will not be possible to see it, but next year in 2015 the main festival will take place. It first started in the Edo period and was encouraged as a celebration to show how Japan had entered a new era of prosperity under the Tokugawa Shogun, for this reason the festival participants were allowed to enter Edo Castle where the Shogen lived and was also thought of as the Shogun’s Festival.
The name itself comes from the Kanda Myojin Shrine where three deities can be found, Daikokuten the god of harvest, Ebisu the god of fishermen, and Taira Masakado a lord who became deified. It is easy to imagine that part of the reason for holding this festival was in order to gain a blessing for that year’s harvest.
The Sanno Festival is held on alternate years
The Sanno Festival, or Sanno Matsuri, takes place in June in even numbered years, the last time it took place was 2012 and thus this year again it will be held. This festival is held to celebrate the guardian deity of Tokyo who has been enshrined at the Hie Shrine, the god of this shrine has always been considered to be the protector of Tokyo. Originally both the Kanda Festival and the Sanno Festival took place around the same time, but as the two festival organisers and supporters started to compete too much with each other, the Shogun ordered that they must be held on alternate years. This year the Sanno Festival will take place between the 6th and 17th of June.
What can you expect at the Sanno Festival
During the festival there are often numerous small events, quite often incorporating traditions of Japan such as Ikebana or the Japanese tea ceremony. Often during this week you will see people wearing traditional clothes as well, as such it is a good opportunity to experience a bit of ‘old’ Japan in this very modern city. The main event is a procession of 300 to 500 people in traditional costumes, they carry portable shrines while others beat drums or ride on horseback. It begins at the Hie Shrine and the parade route is 20km long and includes a stop at the Tokyo Imperial Palace and at the relatively small Nihonbashi Hie Shrine. By the evening the procession returns to the Hie Shrine and this marks the end of the parade.
The Kanda Festival is much larger than the Sanno Festival
The Kanda Festival also includes a large number of events throughout the week which will allow you to experience a more traditional Tokyo then you would be used to seeing. This ends with several processions at the weekend. On the Saturday there is a main procession which tends to be bigger than the Sanno Festival procession with as many as 1500 participants all dressed in traditional clothes including samurai. The evening before the procession the deities of the shrine are invited into three portable shrines via Shinto rituals, these portable shrines are the most important part of the parade. The procession leaves Kanda Myojin Shrine in the morning and returns in the early evening; the journey itself includes Otemachi and Akihabara districts with a brief stop at the shrine’s former location near the Tokyo Imperial Palace. A second procession also leaves from central Tokyo in the afternoon and ends at the shrine. On the following day a number of small processions takeplace as different neighbourhoods celebrate their own local deities.
More information on the Kanda Festival can be found in the link below, please note that it is in Japanese only.