The Summer Festival in Tokyo

Three people pose after having carried the small shrine for the summer festival in Tokyo

Up on the roof of my hotel, I could hear in the in the distance the faint sounds of chanting, or yelling I think, as I had a light lunch. Wondering what was happening, it dawned on me that it was the start of Sanja Matsuri – the summer festival in Tokyo celebrating three men who built one of my favourite temples; Sensoji in Asakusa. Being in Tokyo at the same time as the Sanja Matsuri was complete coincidence – I hadn’t even heard of the event until a friend of mine told me it would take place when I would be in Tokyo.

View of Tokyo Skytree on day of the summer festival in Tokyo
Sitting on the roofer of my hotel gave me a view of Tokyo city and Tokyo Skytree in the distance

After gathering my camera and stuff, I headed out towards Asakusa, down the stairs and out of the lobby, when I bumped into the receptionist. Having a friendly chat, she mentioned about the festival and how Sensoji would be extremely packed. Doubt crept into my mind about whether I should go or not, but then the receptionist mentioned something about smaller parades happening around Asakusa which would be less packed and ideal for photos. (After a few days living in Tokyo, the receptionist had cottoned on to my photography when I asked questions about unusual locations in Tokyo a tourist wouldn’t normally ask.) With my newfound knowledge, I headed towards the chanting.

Large hanging lantern at temple on day of the summer festival in Tokyo
Even though I had already visited Sensoji previously, I couldn’t resist take a quick photo of the huge hanging lantern

I wasn’t sure if being underground was any cooler than being above ground, with the mass of people surging towards the carriages, each and every one making their way towards the festival. Step-by-step, I managed to get above ground and instead of following everyone else to Sensoji, I took a side street along the river, keeping my eye out for one of the smaller parades.

Time ticked by and I was getting further away from Sensoji than I liked to have been; and I was getting hungry. I remembered a few days ago, I overheard some Americans on the bus talking about a café in Asakusa by the river. Given that I was in Asakusa, by the river as well, I decided to try and find this café for some much needed food. That wasn’t such a good idea… I somehow found myself lost in a street between buildings, with no sense of direction. Frustration and anger started to set in; I was beginning to think that I should have headed towards Sensoji with the rest of the people.

Something didn’t sound right when I stood in between the buildings thinking about what to do, I could hear chanting, but it was getting louder with each second. Walking to the end of the street, I looked down the next street and saw in the distance a small shrine being held up by people dressed in blue and yellow jackets with crests on the back of them. (I later found out from the receptionist that the coats with the crests were known as happi.)

A float with people drumming in drums on the summer festival in Tokyo
A small procession with drumming and chanting exceed my expectations of what I was to see

A smile crept across my face as I watched the shrine slowly approaching me, being jostled by the people carrying it, swaying in the air. With my camera in hand, I set myself up and started capturing the moment; watching the shrine being paraded and seeing the expressions on people’s faces as they chanted in time with the swaying of the shrine. The atmosphere was something I never experienced before, welcoming, cheerful and social, nothing like the festivals in the UK.

A man smiles whilst carrying a small shrine for the summer festival in Tokyo
From the expressions on people’s faces carrying the small shrine, it must have been extremely heavy


A man takes a rest after carrying the small shrine for the summer festival in Tokyo
Every once in a while, people will swap out giving each other rest carrying the small shrine


Three people pose after having carried the small shrine for the summer festival in Tokyo
Meeting some of the people was amazing; not only were they friendly but also funny and very sociable.

I lost all sense of time being there, clicking away with my camera, and somehow ended up talking to a group of people about the festival. I’m not entirely sure how one thing led to another, or if it was the fact that I mentioned about trying to find a café, but I fond myself being invited to have food and drink with them to celebrate the festival. Not wanting to be rude, or to pass on an opportunity to be social, I accepted the invite… The rest of the evening was full of laughter and copious amounts of delicious food and drink; up to a point – at some point my memory goes fuzzy and how I got back to my hotel, I still do not to this day.

Waking up the following day, with a “slight” hangover, made me realised how much I enjoyed myself and how I enjoyed being in Tokyo. Being a Sunday, I planned on taking it easy and relaxed and heard about the main street in Akihabara being closed just for shoppers – that in itself was something to see, plus I wanted to do some shopping for me, and maybe for my family…

People walk down a empty street the day after the summer festival in Tokyo
The main street n Akihabara is closed on Sundays, allowing shoppers to cross without running into traffic

Seeing the main street closed just for the shoppers made me wonder if something like that in London would ever happen; but then images of chaos and traffic jams came to mind. In between going to every shop possible along the main street, taking some street photos and evening approaching; I wanted to head to a two spots I had scouted previously to see the Tokyo Skytree at night.

The first spot was relatively easy to find just after sunset, setting my tripod up near the train crossing and framing the Skytree, I captured long exposures of trains passing by. Obviously, being a train crossing meant traffic and pedestrians – so there were times of idle waiting before getting that one photo I wanted. However, I wished I had a wide-angle lens to get more of the Skytree in the frame…

A train passes by with Tokyo Skytree in the background on the day after the summer festival in Tokyo
I had scouted this place out earlier and knew it was perfect for night time long exposure; if only I had a wide angle lens with me

Now being night time, the temperature was a lot cooler and refreshing, to say the least. The second spot was bit harder to find given it was night-time, but I wasn’t in a rush. There were a few other photographers already set up on the bridge over the river opposite the Skytree, but after finding a spot and framing up, I took a few photos.

Tokyo Skytree stands over a river on the day after the summer festival in Tokyo
I was lucky to find this spot in the dark, and that not too many people were around taking photos

There wasn’t any clouds moving, or any moving objects so after checking what I had captured (and took a few more photos just in case), I packed up and headed back to my hotel – I needed to pack and backup photos the following day before taking the shinkasen to Kyoto.

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