Monday, May 11, 2009

Attending Kanda Festival / 神田祭

P5100204 Kanda Festival or Kanda Matsuri (神田祭) is one of the most important festivals in Tokyo. It takes place in Kanda which is one stop away from Tokyo Station and about 5 minutes from Shinjuku. I was lucky enough to be invited to this festival by my boss whose wife is originally from the area and her family still lives there. My boss’ father in law was kind enough to invite us and I spent the better half of yesterday in Kanda, attending this amazing and yet chaotic event. Since this is a huge event, deeply rooted in tradition, there are many, MANY details to give so I will separate this to multiple posts. Let me start out by first describing the overall idea.

P5100193 The basic idea is carrying a portable shrine from a local shrine to the main shrine in Kanda. Of course the way this basic idea gets executed is not so basic – there are rules  to be followed and certain complications, some of which arise from the rules. First of all, the “portable shrine” is not so portable – it weighs quite a lot (no one seemed to know the exact weight but the guess was about a metric ton). You might say “But hey, it gets carried by so many people” but even then the weight per person can be a lot since the number of people carrying the shrine can change over time as the tired people constantly switch out and get replaced by others from the same group if they are available which they may not immediately be. To make things more fun, the shrine is not carried just quietly and steadily. It is constantly shaken up and down as this is thought to bring good luck. Average height of the people carrying the shrine in relation to one’s height is also a big factor as being taller than average (which is the case with me) means constantly getting hit by the shrine  going up and down on one’s shoulder. One very quickly learns the importance of holding the shrine tightly and moving up and down with the shrine to minimize this constant hitting.

P5100198 Of course there is more than one local shrine – in fact there are tens of local shrines. Each shrine has their own portable shrine and corresponding group of people carrying that shrine. There are a limited number of ways to get to the main shrine – the portable shrines are carried on one or two of the lanes of the road, closed during the matsuri – which means there are frequent “traffic jams” resulting in stops. Each local shrine has a different design/color happi/はっぴ, the traditional outfit you can see in the picture. On the back is the name of the shrine but what is written on the front can differ. For us, it was the name of my boss’ father-in-law’s store. Some shrines also had special outfits for a group of people – like the 8 girls in the picture. Under the happi, which is pretty thick, one can wear a tshirt type of thing or, if going for the full traditional outfit, something as thick as the happi itself. As Sunday happened to be one of the hottest days we had this year wearing the happi was not the easiest thing. As for the pants, there were multiple options. We wore long pants, similar to sweatpants but we saw people wearing shorts, and in the case of some men, something similar to what Sumo wrestlers wear which is pretty scary from the back since it looks like they are not wearing anything at all.

OK… To be continued tomorrow – I am still trying to recover from the physical aspects of the experience… :P

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