That’s ZENtertainment in Asakusa

If you watched America’s Got Talent in 2015, you’re sure to remember the energy and ingenuity of the Japanese dance group Siro-A.

That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
That Zentertainment – literally!

Their rubber-band-tight choreography fused with a blaze of cutting-edge visuals and an incredibly eclectic soundscape to wow judges and audiences all the way to the semi-finals. Their imagination-powered performances made for an unforgettably psychedelic impact as the troupe twisted, leaped, somersaulted and jived in a dazzling, full-of-surprises interaction with the lights and lasers.

Just four years before Siro-A got an award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, just three years before Siro-A did a  European tour, and a long-running show at the Leicester Square Theatre in London.

Siro-A clown welcomes the crowd at That's ZENtertainment. Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
A colorful welcome on the stage of That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Tokyo

Fast-forward to 2017, and the amazingly lithe, imaginative and fun-loving boys from Sendai are now working their on-stage sorcery – with a big dash of comedy, dance, acrobatics and traditional Japaneseness – at the Rox 1 complex in Asakusa, Tokyo.

That’s ZENtertainment is a half-hour show that takes place several times a day just four minutes’ walk from the very famous Sensoji Temple in Asakusa.

My partner and I attended the 9pm show on Monday night. The venue is the Yumemachi Restaurant Theater on the 4th floor of the Rox 1 building. It’s a big, high-ceilinged space with tables that you sit around over drinks and snacks.

Scale model of old Asakusa, foyer of That's ZENtertainment, Yumemachi Restaurant Theater, Asakusa.
Model of old Asakusa, Asakusa Rokku Yumemachi Theater foyer.

Antique advertising signs, foyer of Yumemachi Theater, Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo, Japan.
Antique advertisement collection in the foyer of the That’s ZENtertainment venue

The foyer has the added attraction of a huge display of authentic antique commercial signs, and scale models of the Asakusa townscape from before it was destroyed by the 1923 Tokyo Earthquake.

 The That’s ZENtertainment atmosphere is laid back and fun from the word go, with a friendly clown welcoming you in, singing me a snatch of a Maori song when he learned I was from New Zealand(!), taking our photo (cleverly incorporated later into the show) and making us feel very welcome and excited about what was to come.

Siro-A recreate Tokyo 2020 Olympics symbol at That's ZENtertainment. Asakusa, Tokyo.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics skit at That’s ZENtertainment

The show did not let us down. The dancing was dynamic, the visuals were spectacular, and the tricks played using sound and light were often jawdropping. Then the pace – the pace! We were on a rollercoaster being whizzed us through the kaleidoscope of color, dance and sound at gleeful speed, and we didn’t want it to stop.

As much as we (50+-year-old men) enjoyed it, it was a bit of a shame that there were no kids there that evening to appreciate the show, because the performance is a dream come true for under-18s brought up on electronic games and gadgets. Family entertainment extraordinaire!

Fun with traditional-style Japanese paper parasols at That Zentertainment, Yumemachi theater, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Parasol spectacle at That’s ZENtertainment

But the icing on the That’s ZENtertainment cake, or, should I say, the flavor of the cake itself, is deliciously and traditionally Japanese. Much of the show’s appeal is how it blends complete mastery of the latest digital technology with a relaxed and thoroughgoing familiarity with age-old Japanese culture. There’s even a bit of a kanji class woven into the fun – but in a way that’s a million memorable miles from chalk dust and textbooks.

The amount of entertainment value packed into that half-hour is breathtaking. For 1,999 yen, including a drink, it was cheap at half the price.

Siro-A dances with photos of the writer at That Zentertainment, Asakusa, Tokyo.
That’s me! That Zentertainment!


That’s ZENtertainment
is a must-do if you’re in Asakusa (which, if you’re visiting Tokyo, you’re almost sure to be). With up to six shows a day, it’s easy to slot That’s ZENtertainment into any schedule. If the Asakusa of temples, shrines, souvenirs, rickshaws and genteel old restaurants ever needed an extra dash of quintessentially 21st-century fun and color, That’s ZENtertainment is it!

Curtain at That Zentertainment, Yumemachi Gekijo Theater, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
The curtain fall on a fabulous show – That Zentertainment

That’s ZENtertainment
Yumemachi Gekijo Restaurant Theater
Rox 1 Building, 4th floor,
1-25-15 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
That’s ZENtertainment website

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35th Asakusa Samba Carnival Contest: Exuberance on the Streets of Tokyo

浅草サンバカーニバル

Decorated float the the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival Contest, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Partytime! A float at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016

Easygoing, fun-loving, downtown Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s most colorful areas even on an ordinary day – but positively dazzles at the end of August each year with the huge, Brazilian-inspired Asakusa Samba Carnival. This event recreating Rio in Tokyo is a celebration of dance, performance and music that has become part of Asakusa’s heart and soul over the past three decades, and draws crowds of up to half a million – rivaling that other huge annual Asakusa event, the Sanja Matsuri.

Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, 2016

The 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival happened again today at 1pm – the contest beginning at 1.30pm – and ended five spectacular, unbridled, kaleidoscopic hours later at 6pm. The approaching typhoon meant gray skies and scattered rain, but that didn’t deter anyone. The streets were a blaze of color and dancing, and were packed with exuberant spectators who, although on the sidelines, radiated just as much excitement as the participants.

35th Asakusa Samba Carnival in Asakusa, Tokyo with Skytree behind.
Tokyo Skytree forms backdrop to 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival

17 samba teams from around Japan took part today: veterans such as G.R.E.S. Uniao dos Amadores and G.R.E.S. Barbaros – both associated with the Carnival since its very beginning in 1981 – to relative newcomers like G.R.E.S. Sol Nascente, for whom this was their sixth carnival.

Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate, Tokyo, 2016.
Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple’s Kaminarimon Gate

The Carnival being a contest ensures that the teams are giving it their all, and the bad weather didn’t stand a chance against the mass enthusiasm. Each team whirled, gyrated, twisted and leaped to the samba sounds pumped out from each float. The costumes, floats, dancing and performing skills had to be seen to be believed: imaginative, intricate, inimitable.

A train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo

Japan has a large Brazilian population, and the participating teams include numerous Brazilian members; however, the vast majority of participants are Japanese, many of whom have spent time in Brazil absorbing and perfecting their carnival skills.

Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.

The contest was divided into two leagues. The S1 League is of teams of between 150 and 300 people and including the four essential elements of a carnival team: the comissao de frente (the lead group) the porta bandeira (flag bearer), the mestre sala (man dancing with the porta bandeira at the head of the group), and baianas (the women dancing in big hooped dresses). The S1 League winners this year were the formidable G.R.E.S. Barbaros (i.e. “Barbarians” – not named so for nothing!)

Jugglers and baianas at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Baiana dancers and jugglers, 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.

The S2 League is of teams of 30 to 150 members and doesn’t require the full complement of the above four carnival elements. The ICU Lambs were the S2 League winners this year.

Barbaros team's bandeiras at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Banners of the winning S1 League Barbaros team, 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016

The carnival climaxes during the last hour, 5 to 6pm, when the competition is at its hottest and the dancers and performers are at one with each other, the atmosphere, and the crowds – giving it everything they’ve got, absorbing and exuding carnival energy.

Starting just outside the Ekimise shopping building housing the Tobu Skytree Line’s Asakusa Station, the parade goes down to and right into Kaminarimon Avenue, past the huge red Kaminarimon Gate of Sensoji Temple, and finishes a few hundred meters further on at Sushiya-dori.

People from all over the world converge on the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Competition, 2016.
The whole world enjoys the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest 2016 in Tokyo

Enjoy these pictures of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival held on August 27, 2016, in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Jugglers juggle at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Jugglers at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Parade, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm tree costumes at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm trees at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo.
Drummers in parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Drumming parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016
Boat themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan 2016.
Boat-themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo.

Want the CD of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival songs? Inquire with GoodsFromJapan.

Read about the 2016 Brazil Festival in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

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35th Asakusa Samba Carnival Contest: Exuberance on the Streets of Tokyo

浅草サンバカーニバル

Decorated float the the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival Contest, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Partytime! A float at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016

Easygoing, fun-loving, downtown Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s most colorful areas even on an ordinary day – but positively dazzles at the end of August each year with the huge, Brazilian-inspired Asakusa Samba Carnival. This event recreating Rio in Tokyo is a celebration of dance, performance and music that has become part of Asakusa’s heart and soul over the past three decades, and draws crowds of up to half a million – rivaling that other huge annual Asakusa event, the Sanja Matsuri.

Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Porta bandeira at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, 2016

The 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival happened again today at 1pm – the contest beginning at 1.30pm – and ended five spectacular, unbridled, kaleidoscopic hours later at 6pm. The approaching typhoon meant gray skies and scattered rain, but that didn’t deter anyone. The streets were a blaze of color and dancing, and were packed with exuberant spectators who, although on the sidelines, radiated just as much excitement as the participants.

35th Asakusa Samba Carnival in Asakusa, Tokyo with Skytree behind.
Tokyo Skytree forms backdrop to 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival

17 samba teams from around Japan took part today: veterans such as G.R.E.S. Uniao dos Amadores and G.R.E.S. Barbaros – both associated with the Carnival since its very beginning in 1981 – to relative newcomers like G.R.E.S. Sol Nascente, for whom this was their sixth carnival.

Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple's Kaminarimon Gate, Tokyo, 2016.
Asakusa Samba Carnival parade in front of Sensoji Temple’s Kaminarimon Gate

The Carnival being a contest ensures that the teams are giving it their all, and the bad weather didn’t stand a chance against the mass enthusiasm. Each team whirled, gyrated, twisted and leaped to the samba sounds pumped out from each float. The costumes, floats, dancing and performing skills had to be seen to be believed: imaginative, intricate, inimitable.

A train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.
Train-themed float at the Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo

Japan has a large Brazilian population, and the participating teams include numerous Brazilian members; however, the vast majority of participants are Japanese, many of whom have spent time in Brazil absorbing and perfecting their carnival skills.

Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Feathered passistas dance at 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.

The contest was divided into two leagues. The S1 League is of teams of between 150 and 300 people and including the four essential elements of a carnival team: the comissao de frente (the lead group) the porta bandeira (flag bearer), the mestre sala (man dancing with the porta bandeira at the head of the group), and baianas (the women dancing in big hooped dresses). The S1 League winners this year were the formidable G.R.E.S. Barbaros (i.e. “Barbarians” – not named so for nothing!)

Jugglers and baianas at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Baiana dancers and jugglers, 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.

The S2 League is of teams of 30 to 150 members and doesn’t require the full complement of the above four carnival elements. The ICU Lambs were the S2 League winners this year.

Barbaros team's bandeiras at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
Banners of the winning S1 League Barbaros team, 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016

The carnival climaxes during the last hour, 5 to 6pm, when the competition is at its hottest and the dancers and performers are at one with each other, the atmosphere, and the crowds – giving it everything they’ve got, absorbing and exuding carnival energy.

Starting just outside the Ekimise shopping building housing the Tobu Skytree Line’s Asakusa Station, the parade goes down to and right into Kaminarimon Avenue, past the huge red Kaminarimon Gate of Sensoji Temple, and finishes a few hundred meters further on at Sushiya-dori.

People from all over the world converge on the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Competition, 2016.
The whole world enjoys the 35th Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest 2016 in Tokyo

Enjoy these pictures of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival held on August 27, 2016, in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Jugglers juggle at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Festival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Jugglers at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Parade, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm tree costumes at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo, Japan.
Palm trees at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival and Contest, Tokyo.
Drummers in parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan.
Drumming parade at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, 2016
Boat themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 2016 Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo, Japan 2016.
Boat-themed float of G.R.E.S. Barbaros at the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival, Tokyo.

Want the CD of the 35th Asakusa Samba Carnival songs? Inquire with GoodsFromJapan.

Read about the 2016 Brazil Festival in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo.

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Asakusa’s "Toro Nagashi" Floating Lantern Festival

 浅草とうろう流し 

Azumabashi Bridge over the Sumida River was crowded this evening on its upstream side. From about 6.45pm, the crowds on the bridge and lining both sides of the river were treated to the sight of hundreds of candle-lit lanterns being floated from the Asakusa side.

The Toro Nagashi Lantern Floating Festival on the Sumida River, Asakusa, Tokyo.
Toro Nagashi Lantern Floating Festival on the Sumida River, Asakusa

 “Toro Nagashi” means “putting lanterns afloat” and is the feature of this midsummer festival that takes place here every year.

This supposedly ancient festival was revived in 1946 and ran annually until 1965, when flood prevention facilities built along the river made holding the festival impossible. However, with the pedestrianization of the river in the 21st century, the Toro Nagashi festival was revived yet again in 2005, and has been part of the Asakusa district’s summer festivities every year since then.

Daylight on the Sumida River, just before the lanterns are set afloat at the Toro Nagashi Festival.
Azumabashi Bridge (red), on the Sumida River near Asakusa, Tokyo.

Every year, about three thousand lanterns are floated down the river. These delicate paper lanterns lit inside by a candle are released near the time of the full moon, and are traditionally seen as ensuring the welfare of those that live along and around the river.

Members of the public are invited to purchase a lantern for 1,500 yen, sent by mail, which they can then decorate with and float down the river on the day. Mail order applications end on July 31, and applications by those who can actually pick up a lantern directly in Asakusa from the Aasakusa Kankou Renmei (Asakusa Tourism Association) end just a couple of days before the event.

Toro Nagashi Matsuri lanterns floating down the Sumida River towards Komagata Bridge.
Lit Toro Nagashi Festival lanterns float downstream towards Komagatabashi Bridge on the Sumida River

We watched the festival from in front of the Asahi Beer Hall. This evening’s event happened on a balmy, almost cool, midsummer evening, with the Tokyo Skytree towering in the background, and the breeze making the lights of Asakusa shimmer in the dark waters, amid which the tiny lanterns wended their way downstream – a reminder that life still offers simple, and pretty, pleasures.

Read about the huge Sanja Matsuri Festival that took place here in Asakusa just last month.

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Sanja Matsuri 2016 Asakusa Tokyo

三社祭2016年

Today was the second day of the massive, annual, 3-day Sanja Matsuri festival in Asakusa, Tokyo.

Bearing a golden mikoshi shrine, Sanja Matsuri 2016 in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Shrine bearers giving it their all at the Sanja Matsuri 2016

Close-up of shrine bearers at Sanja Matsuri 2016, Tokyo.
Camaraderie at the Sanja Matsuri 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo. 

The Sanja Matsuri (literally “three shrine festival”) is associated with Sensoji Temple, or, more accurately, with the Shinto shrine that forms part of the Sensoji Temple. The shrine venerates the founders of what is said to be Tokyo’s oldest temple (over 1,200 years), and the Sanja Matsuri likewise celebrates them.

Children's fife and drum float, Sanja Matsuri, 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo.
Children’s fife and drum float, Sanja Matsuri, 2016, with Tokyo Skytree in background.

Today being the second day, over 100 mikoshi portable shrines were paraded down the main street of Asakusa, each representing one of the dozens of districts that make up the Asakusa area. The parade down the streets is actually the last – if most publicly visible – stage of the ceremony. To begin with, they are borne down the long Nakamise-dori alleyway flanked by stalls that leads up to Sensoji Temple, then are taken to the adjacent Asakusa Shrine where they are blessed by a Shinto priest. They then return to their respective neighborhoods with every bit as much enthusiasm as they set out.

Some senior members of the Sanja Matsuri procession, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Senior participants at the Sanja Matsuri procession, 2016 – Kaminarimon Gate of temple in background.

Enthusiasm is the Sanja Matsuri’s keyword. The air crackles with it. Drums bang and fifes toot, and the voices of the shrine bearers are raised in rhythmic unison as they shoulder the poles on which the shrine rides, and the buoyant crowd, merging with the edges of the procession buzzes with excitement.

Omikoshi shrine with Kaminarimon Gate of Asakusa Temple in background.
Ornate mikoshi shrine in front of Kaminarimon Gate of Asakusa Temple, Sanja Matsuri 2016.

One very distinctive aspect of the Sanja Matsuri more in evidence on the third day than the second is how the shrines are rocked and jostled by those carrying them. Sunday, the third day, is when the Shrine’s own three mikoshi are paraded, and they are the focus of an extraordinary outpouring of energy and noise that has to be experienced to be appreciated.

Shrine bearers shouldering a shrine at the Sanja Matsuri 2016.
Gambatte! Shrine bearers giving it their all at the Sanja Matsuri 2016.

Yet, in spite of all the boisterousness, the massive crowds gathered to watch are essentially calm, polite and considerate of each other. The great numbers of children present – both participating and watching – attest to the inclusiveness and warm community spirit of the Sanja Festival – in spite of its sometimes fearsome reputation (somewhat sensationally painted so at times simply because of the conspicuous presence of yakuza gangsters at Sanja Matsuris in the past among those taking part).

Children with a neighborhood float at the Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa, Tokyo, 2016.
Children with a festive drum and fife float at the 2016 Sanja Matsuri.

Depending on the weather, I may well go to Asakusa again tomorrow for the climactic third day of the Sanja Matsuri. If so, more coverage on the way!

A view from behind of a fundoshi at the Sanja Matsuri, 2016, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan.
Fundoshi-clad participants at the Sanja Matsuri 2016

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Cute Tanuki Raccoon Dogs in Asakusa Promise Marital Bliss

浅草狸

A tanuki is a raccoon dog in Japanese, and in Japanese culture the tanuki has become a symbol of chubby good cheer and fortune (a comparatively recent development, as the original image was of a shape-shifting trickster). In other words, the tanuki in Japan has become something very akin to that cat that waves in fortune with its paw, the maneki neko.

I was recently in Asakusa, a very traditional part of east-end Tokyo, and noticed that one small street was lined with little tanuki shrines.

One of them featured this “Couple Tanuki” with the following explanation above it: “This young tanuki couple from Asakusa get on well together and promise couples marital harmony, the ability to make up after arguments, and a life lived together in ongoing contentment and good cheer.”

There were several other tanuki similarly enshrined in various poses and promising various good things, but this stolid couple somberly promising bliss somehow stole my heart!

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Tôkyô : voyage à Asakusa par Hirô Kikai

Hirô Kikai est l’un des plus grands photographes japonais qui a exposé dans de nombreux pays. Photographe exigeant et homme ouvert sur la rencontre avec les autres, il est connu comme étant le témoin de « Shitamachi », l’autre Tôkyô, celui des quartiers populaires de la capitale. Jean-François Sabouret est l’un des sociologues reconnus du…