© Grigoris A. Miliaresis

I fell in love with the Japanese folk festivals/fairs (matsuri) as soon as I saw my first one. First of all it’s the colors of the clothes: bright and lots of them in stark contrast to the normal everyday Japanese clothes (I mean the mandatory dark suits for both men and women working in the various companies, the uniform of the “sarariman” and the “office lady”). Then it’s the styling of the clothes: invariably they are linked to the Edo period, a time in the Japanese history that I’m particularly fond of and interested in. Hachimaki headbands, wide obi sashes, tabi socks, waraji sandals, hanten coats, adorned with coats of arms and symbols of various guilds and neighborhoods, fundoshi loincloths and various accessories like fans and tobacco pouches all point out to an era long gone but still very well present.

 Also it’s the music: mostly drums and flutes with the occasional shamisen here and there, pounding very old rhythms and helping the palanquin (omikoshi) carriers, the heart and soul of most matsuri, to handle the extremely heavy portable shrines in and out of the narrow streets of the city or town. And it’s the omikoshi themselves, somber and loud at the same time, with gold phoenix and dragon ornaments, mirrors and ceremonial rope (shimenawa) and lightning-shaped stripes of paper (shide) –that many matsuri are related to Buddhism doesn’t mean that Shinto doesn’t have its place in them. At least not in the unique blend of beliefs and faiths that is Japanese religion.

Above all, though, is the sense of togetherness that binds both the members of the matsuri crews and the communities as a whole. And this togetherness is expressed loudly, drunkenly and laughingly, completely defying the image of the Japanese as a sober, gloomy even people. In the matsuri these same people sing, dance and run half-naked in the streets, push and pull one another, joke, drink, eat and carry their guardian spirits on their shoulders from the shrine or temple and back, in the hope that the spirit with help them face the challenges of everyday life; what really gives them the strength to face these challenges though, is not the spirit that inhabits the omikoshi but the communal spirit that gets stronger with each matsuri.

PS: The picture is from the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa; probably Tokyo’s biggest matsuri.

Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years. 


Γρηγόρης Μηλιαρέσης
Γρηγόρης Μηλιαρέσης
Δημοσιογράφος και μεταφραστής. Έχει συνεργαστεί με πλειάδα εφημερίδων, περιοδικών (τόσο του γενικού όσο και του ειδικού τύπου) και εκδοτικών οίκων και με ειδίκευση στο Ίντερνετ, τις πολεμικές τέχνες και την Ιαπωνία όπου και ζει τα τελευταία χρόνια. Από το 2012 μέχρι το 2016 έγραφε την εβδομαδιαία στήλη στο "Γράμματα από έναν αιωρούμενο κόσμο" και το 2020 κυκλοφόρησε το ομότιτλο βιβλίο του. Περισσότερα στη συνέντευξη που είχε δώσει στο

Η αναδημοσίευση περιεχομένου του (φωτογραφιών, κειμένου, γραφικών) δεν επιτρέπεται χωρίς την εκ των προτέρων έγγραφη άδεια του


Kentucky Fried Christmas

The connection between the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain of fast food restaurants with Christmas is one more Japanese peculiarity usually attributed to the infatuation...

In a nutshell: hell

The first time I came to Japan, I made one of the mistakes that are typical for people who travel without considering themselves “tourists”:...

Point zero

It is one of those bizarre contradictions that completely short-circuit every notion about the Japanese’s connection to their past, their respect to the legacy...

My Asakusa (*)

Many Japanese –among them my wife- can’t quite understand why in my mind “Tokyo” means first and foremost “Asakusa”. Among the comments I often...

Their other face

Like the manga, about which I wrote last year, another big pop export commodity of Japan, cosplay (コスプレ) is also among of the aspects...

Black birds

I have tens of thousands of pictures from Japan but when I searched for one to accompany this text I realized I have very...

Seven times, eight times

“This rose can bloom seven or eight fold blossoms but unfortunately it doesn’t bear fruits” was the girl’s reply to the warrior-hunter who caught...

De gustibus

I was born in the end of the 1960s and grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in Greece during the times of the...