I paid a visit to Asakusabashi this evening for the conclusion of the Torigoe Shrine Festival, which is known for having the heaviest mikoshi in Tokyo. It’s known as the Sengan Mikoshi (“four-ton mikoshi”, these being short tons) and groups of mostly men (and a few women) fight for the right to carry it on its final journey back to the shrine.
Now when I say fight, I really mean fight – as in kick, punch, scratch, claw. That’s what sets this matsuri apart from others I’ve attended – the combat gets extremely intense. There are literally hundreds of police lining the streets, with ambulances in reserve (I’m told they get put to use every year). In fact, while I didn’t take many pictures in the fading light I did take a fair amount of video, especially when I was very nearly caught up in one of the scrapes between two neighborhood associations.
There was lots of cheering for the mikoshi itself but it’s clear this was what most of the crowd came to see. Yes, I really was as close as it looks in the video – in fact I almost went down in the crush once (you can see the camera jolt) and as the melee burst through the ropes and towards the knot of people on the sidewalk a bunch of us were pushed right up against the window of one of the shops, with nothing to do but push back. I’m generally glad at matsuri that while my size is average for an American (about 5’11”, 165) I’m quite large by Japanese standards – because it allows me to see over the crowds. But this time I was just glad to be bigger, period – it’s nice to be able to hold your ground when the shit really starts to go down. It was quite a tense few moments – some definite adrenaline overload.