Celebrating May with Spectacular Festivals

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The month of May ushers in a number of festivals in Japan, starting with the much anticipated Golden Week (Gōruden Wīku).

Showa Day. | Jose Fernando

This week-long holiday starts on the 29th of April with the Emperor’s birthday and Showa day, followed by Constitution Memorial Day on the 3rd of May, Greenery Day on the 4th, and culminating with Children’s Day on the 5th. Golden Week is the longest vacation for the Japanese and many take the opportunity to travel this time of year.

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Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) Hollyhock Festival, on the 15th of May, is another festival to look forward to.  This annual Tokyo festival celebrates the two Kamo shrines, Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine, located in the northern part of the city. According to the ancient historical records Nihon Shoki, Aoi Matsuri Festival began during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (C.E.539–571).

Aoi Matsuri. | yeowatzup

Natural disasters plagued Japan, destroying many crops, and an epidemic spread among the people. This was considered divine punishment caused by the Kamo deities. The Emperor then sent a messenger to the shrine to perform various rituals to appease the deities, including the galloping horse performance that developed into an equestrian archery performance.  This has became an annual ritual.

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Sanja Matsuri  (三社祭) Three Shrine Festival,  is held every third weekend in May at Tokyo’s Asakusa Shrine. It is  one of the biggest Shinto festivals that honors the three men—Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo—who founded the Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.

Sanja Matsuri. | Ari Helminen

Sanja Matsuri is a weekend-long religious celebration dedicated to the spirits of the three founders. Two of these,  the  Hinokuma brothers, were believed to be fishermen. They found a statuette of the  Bodhisattya Kannon that was caught in a fishing net in the Sumida River on May 17,  C.E.628. The third founder, a wealthy landlord named  Hajino Nakatomo, was responsible for converting the brothers to Buddhism. The three men together devoted their lives to the Buddhist faith and consecrated the statue found in Sensō-ji Temple. During the festival, millions of people come to witness the spectacular parades, traditional dancing, and music.