Visiting Japan In May? Enjoy The Kanda Festival In Tokyo!

Visiting Japan In May? Enjoy The Kanda Festival In Tokyo!

This is the Kanda festival, a festival centered around Kanda Myojin, a shrine in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. This happens to be one of the three biggest festivals in Japan alongside the Gion festival in Kyoto and the Tenjin festival in Osaka.

What Is the Kanda Festival?

日本三大祭の1つ神田祭〜概要・アクセス・見どころなど〜
© The Tokyo Sightseeing Foundation

The Kanda Festival is held at Kanda Shrine, which is located in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. Along with the Gion Festival in Kyoto and the Tenjin Festival in Osaka, this is one of the three biggest festivals in Japan. There are two different types of Kanda Festivals held: the Honmatsuri, which is held in odd numbered years, and the Kagematsuri, which is held in even years. However, when someone mentions the Kanda Festival, they’re usually referring to the lively Honmatsuri.

The Kanda Festival is also referred to as the Tenka Festival, or the Unification Festival. The connection to this name comes from Tokugawa Ieyasu who initiated the Tokugawa shogunate (*1). It is said that before going into battle with other warlords, Tokugawa would without fail make his servants go to the Kanda Shrine and pray for victory in the upcoming battle. By doing this, Tokugawa Ieyasu was able to wonderfully unify Japan. In gratitude to the shrine, he donated a gorgeous-looking shaden (the main building of the shrine) and an omikoshi (a portable shrine) to Kanda Shrine. Thanks to the support of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the festival held at this shrine reached impressive proportions.

The highlight of this festival is getting to see the shinkosai, which is a line of roughly 500 people who all wear clothing from the Heian period (794-1185). The shinkosai parade starts off at the Kanda Shrine, goes through Akihabara, an area which is well-known for its many electronic stores, goes through the office districts of Marunouchi and Otemachi, then makes its way back to Kanda Shrine. The sight of a line of people wearing clothing from the Heian period walking through the modern streets is very striking. The next day after the shinkosai is when the omikoshi comes out from the town neighboring Kanda Shrine.

We will introduce here some more information on the highlights of the Kanda Festival.

*1: Tokugawa shogunate: the Tokugawa family ruled Japan from 1603-1867. This is often referred to as theEdo period (1603-1868). This was a period that started off with the first shogun - Ieyasu Tokugawa, continuing until Tokugawa Yoshinobu gave over political power to Emperor Meiji.

The 2017 Kanda Festival

2017 is the year when the Honmatsuri version of the Kanda Festival will be held. The dates for this festival are written below.

The shinkosai: Saturday, May 13th, held all day.

The omikoshi procession: Sunday, May 14th, held all day.

The Venue for the Kanda Festival and How to Get There from the Station

The shinkosai and the omikoshi procession held on the next day can both be seen in the areas surrounding Kanda Shrine. Here, we’ll teach you how to get to the most important spot in this festival, the Kanda Shrine itself.

The closest station to the Kanda Shrine is Akihabara Station. If you’re coming from Tokyo Station, take the uchimawari (inner loop) of the JR Yamanote line and get off at Akihabara Station. It’ll take about three to four minutes and costs 140 yen. From the Electric Town exit of Akihabara Station it’s about a seven-minute walk to the shrine itself.

Kanda Shrine
Address: Tokyo, Chiyoda, Soto-Kanda 2-16-2

The Highlights of the Kanda Festival

Shinkosai

江戸っ子の熱気が秋葉原にも参入!「神田祭」の見どころポイントと楽しみ方
© The Tokyo Sightseeing Foundation

The shinkosai is performed with the aim of purifying the town, as the deities that protect the areas surrounding the Kanda Shrine ride in three types of omikoshi known as the ichi-no-miya-ho-ren, ni-no-miya-omikoshi, and the san-no-miya-omikoshi. The people dressed in the clothing from the Heian period accompany the gods during this procession.

During this procession, one of the highlights is the appearance of the impressive hikimono (*2). These vehicles are noteworthy because of their unique designs, which include the heads of Japanese ogres, or of the great catfish that is said to cause earthquakes in Japan. The hikimono and their attendants are referred to as the tsuke matsuri, and the inclusion of both in the overall Kanda Festival depends on the year.

*2 Hikimono: large car-like objects that appear in festivals across Japan that are typically pulled by large groups of men. They are often referred to by different terms, such as hikiyama, yatai, and danjiri.

The Omikoshi Procession

江戸っ子の熱気が秋葉原にも参入!「神田祭」の見どころポイントと楽しみ方
© The Tokyo Sightseeing Foundation

On the next day after the shinkosai, there are roughly one hundred omikoshi that are brought out and head towards Kanda Shrine. This is what’s known as the Omikoshi Miyairi. The sight of men wearing happi (*3) coats while lifting the omikoshi enthusiastically is, without a doubt, the core of the lively atmosphere of a Japanese festival.

Among the men carrying the omikoshi there are some who also wear a type of old Japanese underwear known as a fundoshi (Japanese). Men who are dressed up as geisha, known as a tekomai, will also elegantly lead the omikoshi. This is a sight that you’re not going to want to miss out on seeing.

*3 Happi: a traditional jacket or shirt that is typically worn during festivals. It reaches to the hip and is worn similarly to a kimono or yukata, in that it is wrapped around the body and belted at the waist.

View the Kanda Festival Procession from Mitsukoshi

The shinkosai portion of the festival starts out from several different locations, heading toward Kanda Shrine. The Tsuke Matsuri group start out from Ariyama Elementary School. The groups will all converge at the Mitsukoshi Department store in Nihonbashi as they head towards the shrine together. This typically takes place at around 16:30. Since you’ve come all this way to view the festival, we recommend heading to this spot as it’s the most lively. Just remember that this area gets packed, so it’s best that you arrive early to get the best spot to view the procession from.

Nihonbashi Mitsukoshi
Address: Tokyo, Chuo, Nihonbashi, Muromachi 1-4-1

** The information presented in this article is taken from the official Kanda Shrine website and is current as of March 2017. This information is subject to change.

Author & Translator

ライター/エディター/翻訳家 熊本県の田舎出身。海が好き。日本の良いところ、良いものを世界に届けます。

Translated by Richard Perkins

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