Daigyoretsu - opening the Sanja Festival

The Sanja Festival is one of the largest and most important events on Tokyo’s cultural calendar. About 3 million visitors attend it over its three days. It starts with an opening parade around Asakusa’s streets to get the ball rolling for the weekend. The event, Daigyoretsu (Big Parade), is a parade that dates back to the Edo period. I photographed it in 2018.

What photo gear did I use for this shoot?

  • Camera body: Fujifilm X-T2
  • Lens: Fujifilm XF 55-200 mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS

How was the 2018 Daigyoretsu experience?

Even though the afternoon was warm, a huge crowd was on hand to watch. In the parade were priests, geishas, heron dancers, and dignitaries. They left Sensoji Temple via its rear exit with the police shepherding them along the route.

The event was simple. Musicians played their instruments, which were mainly drums and flutes. The Heron dancers performed every few hundred meters or so. Everyone else just walked the route in their outfits. It’s calm and subdued, very much the opposite of the weekend.

When Daigyoretsu reached Sensoji’s Nakamise-Dori, the number of people watching increased. In that narrow street, the pace dropped. With the route becoming so crowded, it needed to.

Finally, they made it back to Sensoji and Asakusa Shrine. Once at the finish, the main participants simply bowed and dispersed. With that, the parade and my afternoon of festival photography was over.

I couldn’t stay for the whole event. After I left, the festivities continued. A Shinto ceremony was held after the parade. Dancing to pray for a good harvest and prosperity followed that.

Mikoshi from shrines in Asakusa’s central neighborhoods also appeared. They were carried around the streets. Musicians with drums and flutes accompanied them. That would have been nice to see.  Hopefully, that is something I’ll see in the future.

Do I recommend the Daigyoretsu?

If you are a photographer and are interested in Japanese festivals, I say go!! I recommend it without hesitation. You can snap heron dancers, geishas, and traditional musicians. I’m sure you’ll capture something memorable.

Wrapping up

Daigyoretsu 2018 was subdued, despite the Sanja’s rowdy reputation. Things would get noisy once two million visitors joined in on the weekends. So, the Friday was a good day to see something different. Please leave your comments and questions below.

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