Sanno Festival's Former GloryThe Sanno Festival was once one of the largest matsuri in Japan. The shogun himself attended the festival and the gates of Edo Castle opened to the public (a rarity).
The festival's parade passed through the streets of Edo and in front of Edo Castle. Giant floats and elephants were part of the festivities.
Festival DeclineThe Sanno Festival's ceremonies ask the gods (Hie mountain deities) to protect Edo Castle. Festival organizers claim the festival was scaled back in the 1880s because power lines in Tokyo introduced height restrictions on floats. The more probable reason is that Edo castle burned to the ground in 1873. It's hard to get excited about a festival to protect a castle that has just burned down.
Today, the festival asks the gods to protect the Imperial Palace (that sits at the former site of Edo Castle). It has become a much smaller festival in comparison with its former glory.
Sanno Festival Verses Tokyo Taxis DriversToday, the Sanno festival parade draws around 400 participants dressed in Edo-era imperial court costumes.
The parade approximates the historical route of the festival (when it was a much bigger event). It winds for an incredible 25 kilometers through the streets of central Tokyo. The parade makes several stops along the way including Imperial Palace Gaien (a large park in front of the Imperial Palace). The head priest of Hie Shrine enters the palace and meets the Emperor.
In recent years, police have made efforts to block off only one lane of traffic for the festival. The event isn't popular with Tokyo taxi drivers who complain it creates traffic chaos.
The parade lasts 9 hours and travels through some of Tokyo's busiest roadways.
Festival DetailsThe Sanno Festival is held annually around June 15th (check the Japan event schedule). The large scale version of the festival (that includes the parade) only happens in even years.
The Sanno Festival is a quiet, dignified affair with loads of history behind it. Many of Tokyo's other big spring festivals can be a little on the wild side. The Sanno Festival is recommended for children and those who prefer a relaxed atmosphere.
If you attend the festival it's recommended to do so at Hie Shrine at the start or end of the parade (7:30 am and 5 pm). The Imperial Palace is another good spot to see the parade (sometime between 11:30 and 12:30 according to the schedule).
Hie Shrine schedules a number of small events the week of the festival. Food vendors sell festival foods on the grounds of the shrine. There's dancing and a ceremonial ring that you can walk through (a purification ritual).
Sanno Festival is ranked #5 of 10 best spring festivals in Tokyo
Sanno Festival is ranked #28 of 100 best festivals in Japan