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A Guide to Asakusa Samba Carnival – The Japanese Rio Carnival!
Saturday, 29 August 2020
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▷ Carnival in Japan!
Did you think that Japan didn’t celebrate carnival? Maybe Japan isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of carnival, but carnival is a global phenomenon that reaches all parts of the world! The Asakusa Carnival in Tokyo is one of the very few carnivals in Asia!.
Tokyo throws a carnival celebration that cannot be missed and today the Asakusa Carnival has an attendance of about one million people!.
▷ When is the Asakusa Samba Carnival?
Asakusa Samba Carnival is similar to Notting Hill Carnival in that it is not associated with carnival before the onset of Lent but is instead celebrated in August.
The dates for the Asakusa Samba Carnival will always fall on the last Saturday of August. The 2019 Asakusa Samba carnival will be held on 29th August 2020.
▷ Asakusa Samba Carnival Origins
The Asakusa Carnival was imported from Brazil in 1981 out of necessity to revitalize the Japanese district and boost the economy. They invited Brazilian samba groups to perform, who accepted their invitation and unknowingly laid the first stone of a carnival that has continued to get bigger and better each year.
In the beginning this party almost failed, it was a decaffeinated attempt of Brazilian Carnival, but it survived and grew into what it is today.
▷ Brazil and Japan
You might think that Japan and Brazil do not have too much in common but interestingly there are about 300,000 Japanese living in Sao Paulo alone. And there are almost another two million Japanese in the rest of Brazil, so the countries have some strong ties, it’s almost inevitable that carnival would arrive in Japan.
That’s why Japan’s own carnival is called the Samba Carnival because they imported the whole Brazilian concept for carnival, specifically copied from the Rio Carnival celebrations where samba is the key feature. The costumes, the samba music, the feathers, the samba dances everything that we would associate with Brazilian carnival has been mixed with some Japanese influence.
This is interesting because remember that Brazilian carnival is a mixture of European and African cultures, that is celebrated in the Americas. It is amazing to see how carnival continues to grow and evolve. The culture and charm of Japan adds new life to this carnival celebration.
▷ The Naked Party!
Some call it “matsuri hadaka” which means “naked party” which is in reference to the tiny costumes that are worn in the Asakusa Carnival.
What really surprises people who are not from Japan is to see women and men dancing samba, wearing the “naked” sparkly and colourful carnival costumes that you expect to see in Rio, dancing to Brazilian music, and underneath all that makeup and glitter, they are Japanese.
▷ Japanese Samba Schools
Two leagues and twenty-six carnival groups and samba schools compete in the areas of dance and music and for the best float of the year.
And yes, same as Brazil they even have a sambadrome! The length of “Tokyo’s Sambodrome” is actually a small 6 blocks, but its where everything takes place. It is estimated that there are about 4500 dancers, most of them Japanese who compete in Samba Competitions.
They say that the Japanese are famous because they can make any product a better version. While this may not be an improved version of Rio’s carnival, we do know that they take it very seriously to get to compete for it. So much so that some choreographers are hired from Brazil to travel to Japan and teach them the dances to perfection.
▷ Where is the Asakusa Samba Carnival?
The street Kaminarimon Dori is the place to be to not miss any of the action, and yes everyone knows it! You’ll have to be fast if you want to find a good place to watch the parade.
On this same parade street is the famous Sensoji Temple and taking photos in the carnival parade with this iconic background temple has become something iconic, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
If you want to see them more closely the best thing you can do is go to Umemichi Dori. This is the official start of the carnival parade route. While you may miss some choreography because the parade has not officially started when they leave Umemichi Dori, you are able to approach the dancers and take some pictures with them.
Check out some accommodation options here.
▷ Asakusa Samba Carnival Travel Tips
Remember that over one million people come out to watch the parade, so you do not want to come late because you will be competing with a lot of people to get a good view.
Also, the bars and restaurants take advantage of the parade and sell all kinds of food and drink outdoors, so it’s fun to start your own carnival celebrations in one of these restaurants and then join the parade.
A very important tip about the Tokyo carnival is that it only lasts one day! It is always the last Saturday of August. So, if you travel from overseas don’t expect to find several weeks or days of carnival celebrations it’s just a weekend.
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