Japan is home to a rich and animated culture and is a garland of festivities and social quirks. For a photographer, the country is an ideal backdrop for visual narratives as seemingly every turn presents something peculiar and exciting. The people behind Japan Street Lens, a photo collective that documents the remarkable events and personalities in the country, consider it their playground, and fittingly so, they have amassed a large compendium of images that bring to life the “Land of the Rising Sun’s” vim and vigor.
Frame Zero caught up with two of Japan Street Lens’ photographers, Richard Atrero De Guzman (b. 1974, Philippines) and Nicolas Datiche (b. 1981, France), regarding their third and most recent take on the Sanja Matsuri or Sanja Festival, held annually in Asakusa, Tokyo.
Frame Zero: What makes this year’s edition different from the previous ones you’ve covered?
Nicolas Datiche: This time was a new approach for me because I was lucky to be invited inside a neighborhood team. I was allowed to wear our name and color. Really a different angle and a good opportunity to tell a visual story.
Richard Atrero De Guzman: This year’s Sanja Matsuri has less security than the previous ones.
Frame Zero: What preparations do you do for covering large events like the Sanja Matsuri? What can you advise for first-timers who’d like to document the festival?
Richard Atrero De Guzman: In my case, I just sleep early and get some good rest. For first-timers, carry light cameras and travel as light as you can. And, of course, enjoy the food!
Nicolas Datiche: Preparation is, it doesn’t look like it but even for experienced photographers, physical shooting can be tedious. First, I don’t know why but the weather is usually really hot during Sanja Matsuri. Its really a crowded festival and one of the most famous in the country, so visitors come to see it. And you have to take care of yourself because around the mikoshi (portable shrine), it can be dangerous. People move quickly, and you can be pushed or something like that. Try to come with light stuff, and no backpack; it’s easier.
Frame Zero: As foreigners / foreign photographers in Japan, what sets the Sanja Matsuri apart from all the other festivals in the country? What’s the best, most interesting thing you’ve captured through the years of covering this festival?
Richard Atrero De Guzman: Sanja Matsuri is different because it is very intimate. Locals carry the mikoshi around the streets and you can come close as much as you can. Locals love to see people coming to see and appreciating their town’s festival. I guess this year, I was there to really see and just enjoy the festival. My favorite part is the time when I get to observe festival-goers: I enjoy the teamwork and camaraderie among village members. I’m so happy seeing familiesf come together and participate in the 3-day festival.
Nicolas Datiche: Sanja Matsuri is interesting because it’s a 3-day festival, one of the most famous in Japan, and it takes place inside old Shitamachi (the old downtown of Tokyo) so people are super enthusiastic to carry the mikoshi. People tend to fight one another to have the opportunity to be under it. You can really feel the power of the mikoshi in this festival.
And because it’s a 3-day event, you can see the physical effort of festival-goers day after day. For me, if I have to recommend two festivals that tourists and guests should attend, it would be Sanja Matsuri and Chigasaki Matsuri. The latter is awesome because people carry the mikoshi to sea at the Shonan side in Kanagawa Prefecture.