Tokyo Diaries – Torigoe Matsuri

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Matsuri season powers on.

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.



  1. e

    The dangerous life of a blogger in Tokyo… hope you didn't went too Kyojin on them ;p.
    My metrics-educated mind left me puzzling at your height for an instant "165? cm? " . A fleeting but intense surge of chibiblogger moe X,D, followed by "165? kilos? my eye can't have failed me that much. Must be pounds…"). Online conversion sites ftw.
    Similar brawls in a similar contest were not unheard of when I used to live in Southern Italy. Some mikoshi and their homologous items down there are quite srs bsnss.
    Anyway, this specific mikoshi packs quite the punch in spite of its size it seems. Thanks for your dedication in sharing more cultural goodness.

  2. R

    Thanks for the post, Enzo. It's a very different matsuri — quite an experiential and adventurous one. As I was watching your first video, I was thinking that you must be a lot taller than the crowd — I mean, you can totally see the top of everyone's head in the video…lol. In my mind, I was expecting to see dances, drums, parades, etc., but have never thought of fights — and in your last two videos, people were really getting serious. It's quite contrasting to the politeness that we are used to see from most Japanese. I am glad that you are bigger to hold your ground and hope that you didn't get hurt. On the flip side, it must be quite fun to be this close to see the real "action".

  3. s

    Maybe you could explain this. So if the various groups are fighting to carry the mikoshi, what happens when one group starts carrying it off? I wouldn't expect everyone to keep fighting for the right once the thing is in motion for fear of it getting dropped.

  4. You'd be wrong. I've seen video from prior years were the thing toppled over sideways from one group trying to muscle in.

  5. R

    Enzo how difficult is for a foreigner to get a job in Japan?

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