Festivals of Japan: Gishi-sai Festival in Tokyo
By John Asano
The Gishi-sai Festival is a winter festival held at Sengaku-ji Temple, a Sōtō Zen Buddhist temple located in the Takanawa neighbourhood of Minato-ku, Tokyo.
Every year on December 14th, the temple holds the festival to commemorate and honour the famous 47 ronin, who in 1703 avenged their master’s death by killing his adversary, Lord Kira. The story is one of Japan’s best loved tales and it is here at Sengaku-ji Temple that you can find the graves of the 47 loyal servants and their master, Lord Asano.
The story of the 47 ronin is so famous that it has been made into several movies and dramas as well as being a kabuki standard for centuries. It has even been made into two Hollywood movies in recent times with “47 Ronin” starring Keanu Reeves, and a medieval retelling in “Last Knights” starring Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman.
The legend is the ultimate story of loyalty, sacrifice, persistence and honour and is regarded as the best known example of the samurai code of honour or bushido. Sengaku-ji Temple has a lot of history related to the story including the Ako Gishi Memorial Museum and various documents, relics and exhibits which can be found around the temple grounds.
The Gishi-sai Festival features traditional dances, a memorial service held in the morning and a samurai warrior procession (Gishi Gyoretsu) of volunteers dressed as the famous 47 ronin.
The highlight of the festival is the Gishi Gyoretsu procession which draws large numbers of people wishing to pay their respects and homage to the brave 47 ronin. The procession starts at the famous Zojo-ji Temple (near Tokyo Tower) and finishes at Sengaku-ji Temple in front of the grave of Lord Asano. The sombre parade features the heroic samurai dressed in traditional feudal attire.
Many festival food stalls (yatai) set up just outside the temple on the day of the festival, so you can enjoy Japanese festival food such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki.
Location: Sengaku-ji Temple, Minato-ku, Tokyo
When: December 14
Time: 7:00 am to 9:00 pm
Sengaku-ji Temple is located a short 1 minute walk from Toei Subway Sengakuji Station.