The origins and history of the Kanda Festival
The Kanda Festival is a festival held at Kanda Shrine in the Kanda district of Tokyo. The 1300-year-old shrine was worshipped as the guardian deity for the streets of Edo during the Edo Era, and although the origins of the following festival are unclear, during the turbulent times in the year 1600, Ieyasu Tokugawa made it a standing order to pray for victory daily. When he did achieve victory, he was able to unify the entire nation, and as a result, Kanda Shrine received protection from the Edo shogunate. Since that time, a grand ceremony has been held at the shrine in the form of a festival related to the Tokugawas.
The Kanda Festival as one of Japan’s Three Great Festivals and as one of Edo’s Three Great Festivals
The Kanda Festival is held biannually in May in odd-numbered years as a regular festival done in grand style. Depending on the year, the schedule varies but it is usually held around May 15th and goes on for about a week with various events happening. This venerable festival from the Edo Era generates a lot of excitement. It is not just one of Edo’s Three Great Festivals, but alongside the Gion Festival of Kyoto and the Tenjin Festival of Osaka, the Kanda Festival is one of Japan’s Three Great Festivals which attracts a large number of tourists from all over the country. Within the festival itself, during the most exciting day of the Mikoshi Miyairi, 100 portable shrines pour out onto the streets from Kanda Shrine, and the sounds of nimble flutes and taiko drums along with the high-spirited voices of the people last until night.
Unique floats and parades
The Kanda Festival was affected by conditions of the times through such things as cancellation of the float parades during economically tough times and war. However, in recent years, as the brilliance has returned, the pulled floats (hikisha) with their showy and large art works that appeared during the Edo Era have made a comeback, and with things such as the warriors’ parade and broadcasting the festival via the Internet, the excitement can be shown. Filled with dedicated events such as wadaiko drumming and nightly Noh performances, these various events which are in gratitude toward the deity protecting Edo are precious highlights with the knowledge of Japanese traditional culture.