15Asakusa’s Sanja Matsuri dates from 1312 and is one of the country's three most celebrated, held to salute the memory of the three founders of the iconic Sensoji Temple, shown above, drawing over a million participants to the neighborhood over the course of three days with its boisterous processions and enthusiastically shuttled portable mikoshi shrines temporarily housing gods who bless the streets and people. Carrying deities as they are, the mikoshi, some of which weigh many tons and require dozens of muscular porters, are not allowed to touch the ground. Wooden clappers alert visitors to the movement of the heavy portable shrines; bearers are trained to use their knees, not waists.The Dance of the White Herons, the Shirasagi-no-Mai, unfolds at Sensoji in Asakusa during April and November and mirrors an ancient picture scroll revered by the Sensoji Temple depicting a ritual procession praying for peace and safety after the relocation of the temple. One pole bearer, one parasol bearer, one feeder, three warriors, eight white herons, nineteen musicians and various guardian children make up this flamboyant procession in traditional Heian Era costumes of the late 8th to 12th centuries. The graceful, noble appearance of these white birds display a sign of purity and offer protection from plague.

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