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JAPAN'S VIBRANT PALATE OF MERRYMAKING FESTIVITIES WHICH FASCINA
IMPERIAL HOTEL PHOTO 01

Every July, during Osaka's splashy Tenjin Matsuri Festival, brightly festooned boats of many kinds play eye-catching roles in lively celebrations and processions on the river and along its banks, parading elaborate portable shrines housing Shinto deities, while others carry Noh and Bunraku puppets performing for the enjoyment of landside onlookers. Above is a dondoko, a boat agilely manned by bold, costumed young sailors masterfully rowing their vessel up and down the river between other boats in what is a showy, floating convoy. The parade on the Okawa River culminates at night with an electrifying display of fireworks.

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Asakusa’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.

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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. Our Concierge will be delighted to give you further information and directions.

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Huge bonfires were originally lit on boats and along the Okawa River to illuminate and visually dramatize the festivities during the Tenmangu Shrine's Tenjin Festival in Osaka, which began in 951. The deity dwelling in the Tenmangu Shrine leaves the main shrine on a portable platform once a year to confirm parishioners are leading a happy existence. Elated parishioners parade the deity through the city's narrow streets and alleyways on an elaborately constructed mikoshi float and entertain the deity before returning him to his shrine. Carrying the portable shrine involves a detailed protocol whereby the position of the bearers, the body parts used, the synchronization and rhythm of movement, and even the way of walking duck-footed are prescribed. The Concierge in the Imperial Hotel, Osaka, knows the best way for you to enjoy this exuberant celebration of rich Osaka culture.

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Another of Tokyo's most widely embraced festivals, the Kanda Matsuri at the Kanda Myojin Shrine in central Tokyo, salutes three deities: Daikokuten, the household god of good harvests and matrimony; Ebisu, the ubiquitous god of fisherman and profitable commerce; and Taira Masakado, a 10th century feudal lord who was revered and deified. This festival is relatively new, having started during the Edo Period (1603 to 1867) when the Tokugawa Shogunate began to rule the nation from Edo (today's Tokyo), when the event was celebrated as a demonstration of imminent affluence and prosperity under the new regime. The processions of the Kanda Matsuri were one of only two popular civic celebrations permitted to pass through the august grounds of Edo Castle. The Kanda Festival, held once every two years, consists of numerous events held over an entire week, highlights being a day-long procession through central Tokyo on Saturday and rollicking parades of portable shrines through Kanda's various neighborhoods on Sunday. Overseas visitors are warmly welcomed to take part in the fun.

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