The history of the Sanja Festival
The origins of the Sanja Festival lay with the Hinokuma brothers who discovered a statue of the Bodhisattva Kannon, the principal image of Senso-ji Temple, and the landlord who consecrated the statue and established the temple, Nakatomo Hajino. The three spirits of the men were then enshrined. The Hinokumas, who were fishermen, found the statue in the middle of a fishing net, and in 1312 when the festival was first started, it took on the form of a boat festival with mikoshi being placed on boats. And then with the separation movement of Shinto and Buddhism during the Meiji Era of the late 19th century, Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Shrine were separated of their association, and the Sanja Festival was celebrated only for Asakusa Shrine. Before long, the festival developed so that the current style of pulling floats and mikoshi through the streets accompanied by shouts started after the Meiji Era. The mikoshi bearing the divine spirits are carried and pulled through the area, and the festival is an important one for the people of Asakusa as they pray for security and peace.
A great annual festival happening over 3 days
The Sanja Festival takes place annually on the 3rd Friday, Saturday and Sunday of May. During those 3 days, the streets come alive with the passion of a festival and with many stalls being set up and lining the streets. On the eve of the festival, there is a solemn ceremony involving the transfer of the divine spirits to the mikoshi of Asakusa Shrine. On the first day, a full display of Japanese culture can be experienced as a parade of music and dance by performers in brilliant clothing, and offerings of dance at the main shrine building and Kagura Hall are performed. At this time, the Binzasara dance is performed for a good harvest, financial prosperity and prosperity for one’s descendants, and has been designated as an Intangible Cultural Property. The second day is the time when 100 mikoshi with their spirits are majestically brought out one by one. The mikoshi are pulled through the streets amid the enthusiasm of the people, and the area is engulfed in excitement. Then on the third day, the mikoshi of Asakusa Shrine are toured through the streets. They return to the shrine and then there is a solemn performance of dance and drumming as the festival ends with the ceremonial return of the divine spirits back to the shrine.
In Shinto festivals, these are palanquins that temporarily bear the divine spirits that usually reside in shrines to another place during a festival. It normally refers to the carrying and transfer by palanquin, but it can also mean transfer via other means such as placing the mikoshi on wagons.
Reference: Language Origins Dictionary