Taiken Japan

Autumn Leaves 2016

"Happi" Memories at Sanno Matsuri

"Happi" Memories at Sanno Matsuri

Tex, The Lone Stranger

Once again the famous Sanno festival has come to the Sanno area of Tokyo. It comes once every other year and paints the town with a sea of music, dancing, portable shrines and all around fun!

Hie nihombashi


In June every other (even-numbered) year, so being bi-ennial the next event will be in 2018, one weekend in the area near Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) in Tokyo's Kabutocho district of Chuo-ku or the central city area of this bustling metropolis becomes filled with many people dressed in traditional Japanese festival garbs known as "Happi"... Why? Because hidden behind the buildings across from TSE is the Nihombashi branch of Hie Shrine. The celebrants here are joined by participants in other landmark areas of Tokyo like Ginza and Akasaka, not to mention near the Imperial Palace which is a prime stop-over for the bi-ennial pilgrimage. The business districts in Nihombashi as well as Marunouchi, with their small "on-the-way" shrines, are not exempt from the infectious atmosphere.



There are many shrines and temples sprinkled across the Tokyo landscape. For example, within a stone's throw from the Nihombashi Hiei Shrine branch and likely where many people who went to the festival visit afterwards to imbibe in the Japanese rice wine sake, both alcoholic and not, is the newly-refurbished Suitengu situated in the Ningyocho-Hakozaki area. There are also the miniscule yet locally-beloved Ginnan ("Gingko") and the Chanoki ("Tea Tree") shrines located on the way from Nihombashi to Suitengu, found near the area renowned for Amazake Yokocho, aka "Sweet Sake Street."

Usually on the Friday before the festival weekend, which this year fell on June 10, the thoroughfare covering the area between this branch and the main Hie Shrine (which is nestled atop a hill that is located in the Sanno area) is closed off to cars so a parade may be held between the two sites. The name Sanno Matsuri, with Matsuri meaning "festival," honors the main shrine's location. There were also many stands to be found on the way, such as those manned by fife-and-drum renditioners, not to mention regular vendor stalls selling good-luck items in addition to snacks and refreshments.

Parade-goers, some wearing traditional outfits from the medieval period, travel with the wheeled shrines (apparently fashioned after the Indian juggernauts, albeit at a much smaller scale) all during the daytime, mainly in the Chiyoda and Chuo wards, although Sanno is located right next to Akasaka in Minato-ku. 2016 marked the 400th year of this event. Over the weekend, revelers also use this opportunity to carry around the "Omikoshi" portable shrines on their shoulders and compare them with those shrines from other districts in a more rousing version of the parade, wearing the more modern Edo-era Happi. Major sponsors like the trading house Mitsui & Co., which is the mainstay backer of the Nihombashi local Mitsukoshi Department Store, make sure that the festival spirit is sustained.


Since "out-of-towners" and even foreigners can usually participate in the "Omikoshi" parades that abound during the summer and fall seasons throughout Tokyo and most of Japan, if arranged for in advance, perhaps it will provide "Happi" memories for those visiting this festival-obsessed country during that time. As for Sanno Matsuri in 2018, keep early June in mind should there be a chance to be in Tokyo during the festival season.