Festival as Architecture: A Graphic Anthropology of Sanja Matsuri and other Japanese Festivals

Link to join the seminar on Teams

Sanja Matsuri is an annual festival in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, including elements of parade, procession, and pageantry; formality and informality. The festival attracts a constellation of temporary and mobile architecture ranging from the Mikoshi (portable shrines) to street food stalls and temporary stages for musicians. The festival brings the sub-districts of Asakusa together, with each neighbourhood association reaffirming their internal cohesion as well as looking out towards their neighbours. The paper will focus on Sanja Matsuri, but touch on others including Gion and Aoi (Kyoto), Kurayami and Kanda (Tokyo). 

This research is conducted as a ‘Graphic Anthropology’, bridging the disciplines of architecture and anthropology. The method is the result of a longstanding engagement with Tim Ingold and the ‘Knowing from the Inside’ research group. The research uses architectural drawing conventions, video and audio recordings, photography, Laban movement notations, watercolour painting, mapping, and other forms of diagram & notation to explore the multi-faceted nature of the festival events. 

The aim of the work is to establish an Iterative Aesthetics; that is to say, a sensitivity to the temporality of design. In arguing that these works are architecture, contact is made with the literature on vernacular architecture that discusses buildings made by non-professional or non-specialist architects. This literature has moved significantly from its origins in celebrating traditional craft forms of building towards a sophisticated understanding of the patterns and improvisations underlying architecture practiced otherwise. Here, specialist Mikoshi builders are as important as the regular shop-keepers who arrange a territory in front of their premises; as important as the neighbours who block a road to have a party or the peripatetic food stall holders who pitch up at one festival after another.

This architecture’s pleasure and sophistication often lies in its temporality rather than visual spectacle (although that is undeniably present in many cases), positioning the work in a place similar to Venturi, Scott Brown & Rauch (1960) on Las Vegas, finding a great many lessons for broader architectural and urban practices in these longstanding festivities.​ 

Speaker: Ray Lucas is Reader in Architecture at the Manchester School of Architecture, MMU and has a PhD in social anthropology from the University of Aberdeen.  Lucas’ publications include co-editing Architecture, Festival and the City (Routledge, 2018), a monograph exploring theories of architectural drawing Drawing Parallels (Routledge, 2019); and a volume on Anthropology for Architects (Bloomsbury, 2020).

Pitt Rivers Museum Research Seminar in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology, Michaelmas 2021

Online on Teams (the link is above)

Fridays, 12pm-1.30pm (Weeks 1-3 and 5-8)

Convened by Elizabeth Hallam and Clare Harris