The Sanja Festival (三社祭, Sanja Matsuri) is an annual festival in the Asakusa district that usually takes place over the third full weekend in May. It is held in celebration of the three founders of Sensoji Temple, who are enshrined in Asakusa Shrine next door to the temple. Nearly two million people visit Asakusa over the three days of the festival, making it one of Tokyo's most popular festivals.
The Sanja Matsuri features about one hundred portable shrines (mikoshi) in which Shinto deities (kami) are symbolically placed into and paraded about the streets to bring good fortune to the local businesses and residents. Smaller neighborhood mikoshi can be seen about the streets of Asakusa throughout the festival, while the focus of the festival, the three large mikoshi belonging to Asakusa Shrine, make their appearance on Sunday. For the entirety of the festival, Asakusa is packed with food stalls, festival games and revelers amid a lively atmosphere of Japanese drums and flutes.
The festivities begin on Friday afternoon with the Daigyoretsu Parade, a large procession of priests, city officials, geisha, musicians and dancers wearing Edo Period costumes. They proceed along Yanagi Dori to Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine. A Shinto ceremony is held immediately after the parade, followed by a traditional dance to pray for an abundant harvest and prosperity. In the afternoon the first of the portable shrines (mikoshi) of Asakusa's local neighborhoods are brought out and carried through the streets, accompanied by musicians playing Japanese drums and flutes.
Saturday features the neighborhood mikoshi, nearly 100 of them from the district's 44 neighborhoods, which are brought out around noon and carried to Sensoji Temple and Asakusa Shrine to be blessed before they are carried back to be paraded around their neighborhoods to spread luck and prosperity. Many neighborhoods also have smaller children's mikoshi as well as women's mikoshi.
The events of Sunday, the final day of the festival, begin at 6:00 AM when hundreds of revelers, grouped by their neighborhoods and wearing matching festival garbs, gather at Asakusa Shrine and vie to carry one of the three large main mikoshi (portable shrines). The groups are very competitive as they jostle to carry the mikoshi. Consequently, spectators are not allowed beyond Sensoji's entrance gates during this part of the festival due to space and safety concerns.
After about two hours the mikoshi head off in different directions to be paraded through the district. By the end of the evening, they will have visited all of the streets, shopping arcades and neighborhoods of Asakusa before returning to Asakusa Shrine.
The Sanja Matsuri takes place on and around the grounds of Sensoji Temple a few steps from Asakusa Station, which is served by the Ginza Subway Line, Asakusa Subway Line and Tobu Railways.
From Tokyo Station
Take the JR Yamanote Line to Kanda Station (2 minutes, 140 yen) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, 170 yen).
From Shinjuku Station
Take the orange JR Chuo Line to Kanda Station (10 minutes, 170 yen) and transfer to the Ginza Subway Line for Asakusa (10 minutes, 170 yen).