The Asakusa Samba Carnival Parade Contest 2018 saw participants and onlookers in their thousands sweat it out on the shitamachi streets of Asakusa on Saturday, for Tokyo’s annual summer swansong.

Taking place amidst hot and humid post-Typhoon Cimaron conditions, the 37th edition of the Samba Carnival Parade -- the largest samba carnival to be held in the northern hemisphere -- saw 18 teams from samba collectives, or Grêmio Recreativo Escola de Samba (GRES), from across Japan, parade in front of a panel of judges, and such Asakusa icons as the Kaminarimon Gate, in a contest modelled on the samba parades that take place at the Rio Carnival in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro.

Home favorites G.R.E.S Nakamise Barbaros (G.R.E.S.仲見世バルバロス) took out top spot in the carnival’s main S1 League contest in which teams create their own floats, or allegories.

Each team, which can reach up to 300 members, is judged on six basic factors that includes a team’s display of enthusiasm and movements to fit the parade song as they move their float along the parade route.

Saturday’s carnival parade victory was the third in a row for G.R.E.S Nakamise Barbaros, a samba collective founded by shrine-bearers from Asakusa’s other large-scale event, the Sanja Matsuri.

The “Barbaros” have been an ever-present at the contest, having participated in the inaugural event in 1981, and even the “pre-carnival” the year before, when the team went under the name of the “Ejectors.”

“Nakamise Barbaros are the 2018, 37th Asakusa Samba Carnival champions.” read a message on the group’s Facebook page, posted shortly after the event, before going on to dedicate the team’s victory to “Brazil, the country of samba,” and master of the genre, the Brazilian sambista, Paulinho da Viola.

(G.R.E.S Nakamise Barbaros carnival float)

While the Edo-era stylings of Asakusa might seem a long way from Rio de Janeiro’s Sambódromo, the purpose-built setting for the world-famous Rio Carnival, visitor numbers to the carnival in Tokyo regularly top 500,000 and reflect a long history of immigration / emigration between Japan and Brazil.

The 2018 Asakusa Samba Carnival comes as the two countries mark the 110th anniversary of the first arrival of Japanese to the Latin American giant, with Princess Mako, the eldest of Emperor Akihito’s granddaughters, touring 14 cities during a visit to Brazil in July this year.

The original idea for the Asakusa Samba Carnival Parade Contest dates back to the late 70s and is said to have come from former Taito Ward chief, Uchiyama Eiichi, and the comedian and actor, Ban Junzaburo, in an effort to rejuvenate an Asakusa that was on the wane as Tokyo residents sought shopping and entertainment in other parts of the capital.

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