Tokyo: Museum conveys history of Kanda festival

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
A float featuring a figure of Emperor Jimmu that was used in the Kanda Matsuri festival during the Meiji era
Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
The vermilion-lacquered ritual hall and museum are seen behind the shrine, right-foreground, with special exhibitions on the second floor and permanent exhibitions on the third floor.

Kanda Myojin shrine — the guardian deity of Edo, now Tokyo — is typically crowded with worshippers, but there is a hidden spot at the shrine known only to some: The Kanda Myojin Shrine Museum. “The average number of visitors is about four or five a day,” said Masanori Kishikawa, a priest at the shrine.

The museum exhibits materials related to the Kanda Festival, one of the three major festivals of the Edo period (1603-1868), as well as ukiyo-e woodblock prints owned by the shrine.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
A diorama reproducing the procession of the Kanda Matsuri festival in the Edo period

The shrine was built in 730 during the Nara period (710-794) and has more than 5,000 items in its collection, including ancient documents, picture scrolls and ukiyo-e prints. The shrine also celebrates Taira no Masakado, who was killed in the Tengyo War in 939, after instigating a revolt against the Imperial Court. The museum exhibits about 120 of these items and holds various special exhibitions on an irregular basis.

The most eye-catching item is a 2.3-meter-high float bearing a figure modeled after the legendary first Emperor Jimmu. The gold color on the robes still shines beautifully even though it was used as far back as in the Kanda Matsuri festival in 1884.

The festival has been held once every two years since the Edo period. Two dioramas tell the story of how it has changed. In the Edo period, the festival was held on Sept. 15 of the lunar calendar, with a procession of two portable shrines and floats from each neighborhood. The procession entered Edo Castle, under the shogun watchful eye.

However, in the middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912), the festival was moved to May in the Gregorian calendar to avoid the typhoon season. Thereafter, the portable shrines of each neighborhood association appeared instead of the floats, and now the Mikoshi Miyairi parade is held and enters the shrine premises.

Inside the museum, there is a replica of an 8-meter-long picture scroll donated to the shrine by Osamu Akimoto, who wrote the manga “Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari Koen Mae Hashutsujo” (KochiKame: Tokyo Beat Cops) for 40 years. There are also ema tablets and amulets from the anime “LoveLive!,” which features a scene in which high school girls moonlighting as idols run up the stone steps next to the shrine office.

Photo by Taku Yaginuma / Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun
The museum displays posters and related goods in collaboration with anime and manga productions.

Because of its proximity to Akihabara, the shrine is actively involved in joint projects with various subcultures.

“Shrines have a deep history, but they are also a place of culture for modern people who come to worship. Through this exhibition, we hope that people will appreciate that tradition is something that changes and is newly created,” Kishikawa said.