Nerdtour 2012: Asakusa matsuri, pt. 1

Okay, so, I’ve been home now for two weeks, but I’ve still got a lot of stories to tell and pictures to show from the trip, so I’m going to still call them “Nerdtour 2012”. Just so you don’t get confused and think I’m still over there (even though I kind of wish I was…) I’m also going to split some of these up, to keep down the boredom of endless scrolling through text, looking for the pictures! ^_^

On November 3rd, the Asakusa town in Tokyo held a parade around the Asakusa shrine grounds, featuring small floats and people dressed in period costumes from Japanese history, from the Heian Period in 794, up through the Meiji Restoration in the 1860’s. So since I’m all about history (and potential photo opportunities), I told my buddy John about it the night before, and we made plans to go.

Of course, plans require actually executing them in a timely manner, and both John and I were increasingly lax in getting up and about and on the road early. My excuse was my increasingly bad “Cold from Hell”, which sapped a lot of my energy. We managed to make it to the subway and to Asakusa before it was all over.

Subway in a subway

What subway station would be complete without its own Subway? It maintains the balance of the space-time continuum…

Ueno station artwork

All stations have some kind of artwork or theme to them, this station in Ueno is “circles”.

Close-up of station artwork, with a photograph embedded in the sphere

Each of the spheres has a photograph of a local landmark inside, this one is the shotengai (shopping street) Ameyoko.

circular cutouts in the walls protecting the escalator

More circles…

nearly empty long hallway

The other thing slowing me down was the mass of people in overcrowded Tokyo…

long empty subway station platform

So… many… people…

After the uneventful (and not crowded ^_^) subway ride, we followed people out of one of the station exits, and right onto the street where the parade was in progress. Now, I don’t know much about any of the periods that the costumes are from, but I don’t think they were necessarily in chronological order, and there was at least one set of fictional characters in the parade, probably representing one of the periods. Basically I recognized the times when foreigners were allowed into Japan, and the effect they had on the clothing styles of the time. So, without further ado, here are some pictures from the early part of the parade.

noblewoman on float with guides

So, the first person I get a picture of is this noblewoman, maybe famous, maybe not

women in bright colorful headgear and clothes

Not sure if those colors were available back in the 9th century. Retainers? Ladies in waiting? Priestesses?

tall man in "tengu" costume, followed by a priestess

So, the guy with the staff is dressed as a “tengu”, which you can tell (maybe) by his long nose and red face. Most festivals seem to have one, and he’s followed by a priestess, I think

men with flat straw hats

Oh, no, it’s “Invasion of the Saucer Men of Edo!” (just kidding!) The hats are sure problematic, apparently…

many men with flat straw hats

Oh, no, more saucer-men! Good thing it wasn’t windy, I’m sure those things develop a heck of a lift…

procession of pipers and a nobleman with an umbrella-carrying attendant

So, how come this guy rates an attendant with an umbrella, and the musicians don’t? Oh, yeah, “nobility”…

priestess and man in flat hat

… at least there’s a priestess to lead the way

musicians playing pipes and other instruments

Okay, the people playing flutes I get, but I have no idea what the others are carrying, they look like miniature “Eye of Sauron” towers…


When I first saw them from this angle, I thought “those poor women walking with backs like that” then I realized they had bustles underneath their robes.

men walking with drummers pushing ceremonial drum

“All hail hypno-drum!” There were drummers just before each group carrying or pushing a “mikoshi” (portable shrine)

men pushing a portable shrine

There were different mikoshi, representing the local gods of some neighborhoods. During festivals the priest will put a piece of paper with the name of the god inside the mikoshi, which in their belief means that the god is then inside the shrine. Funny thing, the word for “god” and the word for “paper” sound alike, “kami”, but they’re written with two different kanji characters. Makes for a lot of puns…

Another group with a portable shrine

And another one…

older men wearing 19th century straw "boater" hats

So, I’m pretty sure that the straw boater hats weren’t invented in Japan, so these older gentlemen are wearing clothes from about 1900, if Wikipedia can be believed. It also claims the Japanese call these “can can hats”. Oh, Wikipedia, accurate or not, at least you’re entertaining…

two groups of men, one wearing ancient flat straw hats, one group wearing modern straw boaters

Hundreds of years of straw hat technology, compressed into a few hundred feet. Ah, Japan…

More next time…

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