Translated by Jasmine Nishino
See Japan's Festivals Any Time - Omatsuri Museum, Asakusa
Written by Reiko Ichikawa
In this article we will introduce the history of Asakusa's famous Sanja Festival through the displays and artifacts in the Omatsuri Museum.
How many traditional Japanese festivals do you know?
In Japan, there are many festivals, otherwise known as omatsuri (お祭り), that occur year round. Most of them are held at temples and shrines, but lately cities and shopping arcades host festivals to liven up those areas as well.
This time, we will introduce the Omatsuri Museum, located in Asakusa, Tokyo. This museum passes down the traditions of festivals from Edo (the former name of Tokyo) to the current day.
Miniature Replicas of Asakusa's Largest Event, the Sanja Festival
In this picture, you can see how the festival is like through a miniature replication. This is right when the mikoshi is being carried out during the Sanja Festival (Sanja matsuri 三社祭).
The Sanja Festival dates back all the way to the year 1312 when Amida Sanzon (the two holy followers that accompanied Buddha during his pilgrimage), received a message to begin a "boat festival" or "Guanyin Bodhisattva Festival". Until the year 1660, this festival was held at both Sensōji Temple and Asakusa Shrine.
For a long time, the Japanese people have embraced a syncretic belief, according to which the "Buddha and the deities are two representations of the same reality" and thus, many of the people in Japan are Shintō-Buddhists even today. Perhaps that is why it was not odd for two religions to be holding the same festivities.
Handing Down the Festival Traditions to the Modern Time at the Omatsuri Museum
The Omatsuri Museum is located on the large street across from the Exit A4 of the Asakusa Station. You will be able to spot the portable mikoshi and other decorations used in festivals on display here.
Once you enter, you will instantly spot miniatures depicting festivals along with costumes, tools and materials that were formally used at these events.
The Traditional "Tenugui Hand Towel" Shop in the Annex
The company that operates the Omatsuri Museum is a textile craft company called Tokyo Wazarashi. Here, at the Omatsuri Museum, you will be able to spot the Tokyo Wazarashi shop right inside.
At the shop, you will find beautifully colored tenugui towels (*1). Each piece is hand-made by professional artisans. From time to time, you will be able to experience a dyeing workshop inside the shop too. If you are interested in Japanese culture, this experience is a must.
*1 Tenugui: a multipurpose towel that is made of soft textiles.
Real Artifacts You Can Only See Here
This is an outfit that has been used for three generations at festivals. Once worn by women called tekomai, these ladies walked in front of the mikoshi, purifying the streets before it passed.
Nowadays pre-made outfits are used, but formally, high end fabrics and materials were exclusively used. Only a handful of ladies were permitted to wear this type of outfit to attend the festivals.
This wooden item makes rattling sounds and is called a hyōshigi. On the surface the Chinese characters for the name "Ieyasu" (家康), have been painted. These are in reference to Ieyasu Tokugawa, a famous shōgun who unified Japan.
This is a fan that is used in the Sanja Festival.
No festival can go on without some Japanese sake. At the Omatsuri Museum, you will be able to see some rare sake that was specifically made for the Sanja Festival.
At the Asakusa Omatsuri Museum there are also other displays that tell the history of traditional festivals in Japan. On your next visit to Asakusa, why not stop by the Asakusa Omatsuri Museum to understand the city more?
Asakusa Omatsuri Museum
Address: Tokyo, Taitō, Kaminarimon 2-3-5
Hours: 10:00-18:00 (may change; refer to website)
Closed: Irregular (refer to website)
Credit cards: -
Languages: Japanese and English
Services in Other Languages: Available (Pamphlets, guide books and other related items)
Nearest Station: Asakusa Station (浅草駅) on the Tokyo Metro, Tōbu Railway, Toei Subway Line
Access: 2 minute walk from A4 exit
Entrance Fee: Free
Phone number: 03-6796-7800
Homepage: Asakusa Omatsuri Museum