Festivals are a key part to understanding Japanese culture experiences and immortalizing them with photography is a rewarding and memorable experience. In Tokyo, there are Three Big Tokyo Festivals that if you witness and photograph, you will be one of the elite that has done so. Many of the native Japanese have not attended much less participated in a Japan Photo Tour to capture these awe-inspiring spectacles.
The first of the three is the Sanno Matsuri which begins at Hie Shrine. The shrine is thought to actually predate the founding of the city to Tokyo. Of course, the shrine represents a photo op all by itself. The shrine holds the guardian deity of Tokyo, and during the Edo Period, the shrine became associated with the Tokugawa family, and the shrine with the festival became synonymous with the nation’s new political center. The most important and photogenic elements of this street festival are the three portable shrines called mikoshi and the three Shinto gods that are carried around the city.
The second festival, the Sanja Matsuri, is held in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, usually late in May. The festival is associated with one of the most well photographed temples in Tokyo, Sensoji Temple with its enormous lantern marking the entry way into the inner shopping arcade and, ultimately, the temple grounds. The festival features approximately one hundred portable shrines, but your Japan Dreamscapes (JDS) photo tour leader knows when the three large mikoshi appear and will help you get in the best location to make the most of your matsuri adventure. Shutter chances abound as the festival begins with a procession of geisha, priests, and local public officials. Being true to the Edo origins of the parade, many musicians and dancers wearing Edo Period costumes also join the parade. You will be standing so close you will think you’ve time traveled as you take photo after photo of this amazing event.
The final of the big three festivals is so elite that it only takes place once every three years! Guess what? You’re in luck! The next full performance of this festival will be in 2019, so make your reservation now to make sure you can count yourself as one of the few international visitors that has seen this breathtaking festival. This festival boasts a 2-ton portable shrine that takes countless men and women to carry through the festival route. Purifying water is ceremoniously poured over the group in charge of the carrying the shrine, but your JDS photo workshop leader will have you properly geared up and ready to move in unison with the parade and see every droplet of purified water frozen in time with your camera as you document this rare Tokyo festival experience. It is rare to have unimpeded access to this festival, but you could if you join the tour!
Not to be outdone by its capital city rival, Tokyo, Kyoto boasts three big festivals. And unlike Tokyo, Kyoto’s festivals are annual festivals, so there’s no requirement to wait.
The first festival on the Japan photo tour is the Aoi Matsuri which has a history as rich as the city itself. The festival actually predates the founding of Kyoto in 794, and it goes so far back into Japan’s history that the true origins of the festival are unknown. ‘Aoi’, the name given to the festival is Japanese for Hollyhock, which many of the members in the festival’s procession are wearing. Hollyhocks bloom in so many different colors, that the period clothes coupled with the freshly plucked hollyhocks will make for some breathtaking photos. Indeed, the main attraction of the festival is the more than 500 people donning the aristocratic garb of the Heian Period (794-1185). The members of the parade walk from the Imperial Palace all the way to the Kamo Shrines in the city. There will be numerous photo ops as the members nobly stride toward their destination with you moving parallel to the procession and record all the crucial moments with your camera.
The Jidai Matsuri is known as the ‘Festival of the Ages’, and as the name suggests, the train of participants wear clothing from nearly every age in Japanese history. Some members even go so far as to imitate famous samurai lords that are important to Kyoto’s history and heritage. The festival began in 1895 to celebrate the founding of Kyoto and recognize its importance as a cultural hub to Japan. As you join the parade, you may find yourself photographing 1,000 years of Japanese culture. The festival has approximately 2,000 members, so you will be busy capturing the different ages of Japan with your camera.
The final festival on the photography tour is the Gion Festival. It is considered to be the best festival in all of Japan. The matsuri is so massive it takes an entire month to complete! The grand procession of floats, the Yamaboko, is the ultimate in festival experiences. Every one represents a different chance for you to take another spectacular photo. The floats can spire up to 25 meters tall and weigh as much as 12 tons. The wheels on which the floats move are as big in diameter as an averaged size man. Each float is intricately decorated with different concepts and messages to transmit in mind. With floats of this scale, you will be occupied from the moment the festival starts until the end.
The festivals occur at different times of the year, so choose one and contact JDS and start your once in a lifetime tour plans now!