First off a little background courtesy of Wikipedia:
" Sanja Matsuri (三社祭, literally "Three Shrine Festival"), or Sanja Festival. The festival is held in honor of Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo, the three men who established and founded Sensō-ji. Sanja Matsuri is held on the third weekend of every May at Asakusa Shrine.
Like many Japanese festivals, Sanja Matsuri is a religious celebration. It is a weekend-long Shinto festival that is dedicated to the kami (spirits) of three men. It is believed that two fishermen—brothers named Hinokuma Hamanari and Hinokuma Takenari—found a statuette of the Bodhisattva Kannoncaught in a fishing net in the Sumida River on May 17, 628. The third man, a wealthy landlord named Hajino Nakatomo, heard about the discovery, approached the brothers and converted them to Buddhism. The three men then devoted their lives to the Buddhist faith and consecrated the statue in a small temple. This temple, now known as the Sensō-ji, currently houses the Kannon statue and is the oldest temple in Tokyo. "
I have read a few accounts claiming this Matsuri is one of the wilder and larger of the annual festivals but I have my reservations about this claim. In size I won't argue but I still have plans for several other summer Matsuri's with more promise for fervor and insanity. That said, this weekend was a blast. We arrived for the Saturday of the weekend festivities, the day when approximately 100 O-mikoshi's from 44 districts of Asakusa tour the shrine. Immediately after parking the car we hit a Family Mart and stocked up on onigiri and Asahi Super Dry and took off in the direction of the nearest taiko drumming. O-mikoshi (portable shrine) after O-mikoshi filled the streets in procession to Asakusa shrine and I threw myself into the chaotic river of bodies.
I returned from Singapore last week from a stock shoot, a fashion shoot, and a piece for a personal project. For all of those shoots I had production, lights and a brief in mind. In contrast Saturday was exhilarating as I gave myself to a seething mass of people chanting, blowing whistles and laughing while hauling their O-mikoshi's towards the shrine. Don't get me wrong, I went with the intention of photographing lit portraits. I had a backpack loaded with my Profoto 600R, extra battery, triggers and ProGlobe to use hollywood style. However, it is so easy to get swept up in the energy and momentum of a Japanese Matsuri. There is such a sense of community, culture and joy during these events no matter how hot it is outside or heavy the shrine on their backs. There were so many moments to capture and I was having so much fun moving fluidly through the crowd that I never opened my bag (though the rig was noteworthy and may call for a future blog post). Lets be honest, as a photographer it's hard to beat the visceral experience of being shoved around the street in a crowd while shooting on the run. It's a pure rush of joy.
One of the driving goals for attending this particular Matsuri was to capture the full body tattoo's of the Yakuza gang members. For reasons I have yet to discover their half-naked attendance is unique to this particular gathering. I found a small group of them (I have a feeling more attended the culmination of the festival on Sunday) but quickly realized I was not the only one hunting these art covered gangsters. These guys commanded celebrity status and spent the day relishing in the cascades of shutters which followed them through the streets. Regardless they were a wonderful spectacle and I was not disappointed with their performance.
No matter their status in the throngs of people from young to old or naked tattoos to full ceremonial dress people were full of life on a beautiful day and what to me felt like the opening of the summer festival season. It was a perfect day in the sun and behind the camera and I am happy to share some of the images with you all.