Sanja Matsuri (三社祭), one of the largest and most important traditional festivals on the Tokyo calendar, took to the streets of Asakusa Friday, with an opening parade kicking off the weekend of festivities for 2018.

Known as the “daigyoretsu,” the parade serves, in the eyes of the casual observer, as the traditional opener for a festival that, in its current guise, dates back to the Edo period, although Sanja Matsuri’s roots as a celebration of the founders of Asakusa Shrine take it back over 700 years.

Asakusa’s sticky afternoon temperatures did nothing to deter the international crowds of onlookers many of whom had taken up spots by the side of the road well in advance to see the parade make its way towards the district's famous Sensoji Temple complex and onto its final destination in front of Asakusa Shrine.

Despite Sanja Matsuri having a reputation as one of the rowdiest of the Japan capital’s festivals, the daigyoretsu is actually a more sombre affair which belies the mood of what is to come over the rest of the weekend.

The parade of priests, geisha, dancers and dignitaries inched its way from a location just north of the Sensoji grounds south to Kaminarimon-dori and then along a tightly packed Nakamise as it made its way to Asakusa Shrine, breaking into a moody chant on the approach to Sensoji.

Later today mikoshi from shrines in Asakusa’s more central neighborhoods will be carried around the streets before Sanja Matsuri launches into its more feverish celebrations over Saturday and Sunday which typically see more than a million visitors over the duration of the festival.

Read more about the Sanja Matsuri and the schedule of events for the 2018 edition of the festival.