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Japan: Asakusa (Samba Carnival)

Every year since 1981, together with samba teams from Brazil, about 4,700 lovers of samba dancing from all over Japan converge on Asakusa on the last Saturday in August for what is known as one of the largest events in Tokyo. As a town that grew up around a temple, Asakusa observes many traditional festivals, but the Samba Carnival is a relatively new event. It started when the Mayor of Taito invited the winning group from that year’s Rio Carnival in Brazil to put on a display. The dance trend quickly caught on and samba became a part of Asakusa’s rich tradition. As a matter of fact, the district is full of tributes to Brazilian culture and customs, including several of Japan’s most popular samba schools.

During this one day event, thirty to forty teams compete for prizes. The largest of these teams consist of 250 performers. The competition is usually broken into three tiers of dancers classified by their skill level and commitment to the highly technical art of samba dancing. The top league is comprised of dancers who are seriously committed to dancing, those who put on original dances with a high degree of technical skill and musicians who can expertly play South American percussion instruments. The participants in leagues 2 and 3 are basically there to enjoy dancing the samba and participate in the costume parade.

The event characterized by its gorgeous costumes, intricate floats and a healthy dose of sultry samba dancing draws more than 500,000 visitors annually. Considerable effort is put into making the costumes and floats. Colorful plumes and thousands of sequins are combined with an enormous amount of originality and creativity to produce fabulous outfits, some of which are so big you can hardly see the performers wearing them! Some teams try to achieve a glamorous spectacle while others go for the funny and ridiculous. Each group is accompanied by its own band, in which drums and Latin-American percussion instruments dominate. Most of the performers are young women, but there are kids, men and older performers too. Every year, the winning team from the Rio Carnival is invited to Asakusa and they parade alongside the local teams.

A prize is awarded to the best team as determined by the judges and another based on mobile-phone voting by the general public. On top of this there are extra prizes awarded by carnival sponsors. Although the parade is limited to Kaminarimon-dori and Umamichi-dori near Sensoji Temple, there is an overwhelming atmosphere of energy and exuberance throughout Asakusa on the day of the event.

The get to the event use the Ginza or Toei Asakusa Subway Line exiting at Asakusa Station. Admission to the carnival is free.

Outside Sensoji characterized by the gate with the large lantern

Outside Sensoji characterized by the gate with the large lantern

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Combining tradition with the modern in Asakusa

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Dancers riding atop one of the many floats

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Web page: http://www.asakusa-samba.org/

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