The Mitama Matsuri is Tokyo’s biggest Obon festival, running annually in mid July. ‘Obon’ is an ancient Buddhist tradition where one celebrates their ancestors, a key feature of Obon festivals is the use of lanterns. The festival was first held in 1947 and has continued every year since, with over 300,000 people attending each year! The festival is held at Yasakuni Shrine which is a controversial location to say the least, housing the ‘spirit’ of 14 war criminals. Yasakuni shrine is a 5 minute walk from Kudanshita station. Interestingly when I was visiting I couldn’t find any information on starting times for the festival! The only one that I saw was that it started at 8pm, which turned out to be very wrong. I arrived at about 7pm, just in time to see the Mikoshi (portable shrine) procession begin.
The Mikoshi is carried from the gates right to Yasakuni shrine, with the carriers chanting. It is an incredible scene as about 30 men and women carry this incredibly intricate (and heavy!) shrine. They eventually arrive at a mid-way point, in front of a giant statue. It is then that some women dressed in traditional yukata lead a dance. The audience is welcome to join, and I saw anyone and every join in on the fun! The dancing was incredibly beautiful and elegant, especially seeing all the gorgeous yulara that people were wearing.
By this time the 30,000 lanterns that line the way began to light up! It truly is a gorgeous sight. Unfortunately unlike stereotypical ‘summer festivals’, there are no fun games to play or food stalls. Which makes sense since this particular one is to commemorate the dead! So make sure to eat beforehand.
This was such an incredible experience and I feel very privileged to have been part of it. Everyone at the festival was so respectful and kind. Today is the last day of the festival and I highly recommend anyone in Tokyo to check it out tonight. Tonight is also a special occasion as they will be releasing the 30,000 lanterns into the night sky!!