Sanno Festival


The Sanno Festival, also known as Sanno Matsuri, is one of “the three great festivals” of Tokyo along with Kanda Matsuri, which it takes turns in alternate years with, and Sanja Matsuri, which occurs every year.

Sanno Matsuri takes place in even-numbered years while the Kanda Matsuri takes place in odd years.

The fact that this is one of the three great Shinto festivals of Japan has more to do with tradition than its size. The modern Sanno Festival is much smaller than it was in the Edo period. The three festivals were among those that the shōgun allowed to enter Edo castle’s grounds (a fourth was the Nezu Shrine festival).

Schedule 2024

There are plenty of things to see and do throughout the festival, with performances at Hie Shrine almost every day, but here are the highlights:

June 7 (Fri.): The main parade

The main procession — including elephant-shaped floats, traditional costumes, musicians on floats, and mikoshi (portable shrines) — leaves from Hie Shrine at around 8 a.m. It parades around central Tokyo (including past Ginza, Tokyo Station, the Imperial Palace, and Yotsuya) before returning before 5:00 p.m.

June 13 (Thu.) to June 15 (Sat.): Bon odori

One of the earliest Bon dance festivals in Tokyo takes place in front of Tameike-Sanno Station and lasts for three days. There are night stalls and plenty of visitors in yukata. Things kick off at 6:30 p.m.

Why is the Sanno Festival celebrated?

Edo was Tokyo’s old name and the castle was so large that most of central Tokyo stands on what were once its grounds. A story has it that to stop arguments between the organizers of the Kanda and Sanno festivals, the shōgun ordered them to be held on alternate years.

Another reason for the festival’s importance is that between 1871 and 1946 Hie Shrine was one of the top-ranked official government shrines in the country. During this period the emperor replaced the shōgun as ruler of Japan and was enshrined by state Shinto as a living god. Although American occupation forces disbanded the official shrine ranking system as having contributed to militarism, and the emperor renounced his divinity, the shrine is clearly still held in high esteem. Sanno Festival’s parade stops at the imperial palace around midday for the head priest to enter and offer prayers to the imperial family.

Although the Sanno Festival is a shadow of the lively celebration it was in Edo times — an atmosphere you can still witness today at the Sanja Matsuri — the Sanno Festival is an insight into the history of Japan and well worth watching.

Organizers may cancel events, alter schedules, or change admission requirements without notice. Always check official sites before heading to an event.

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