The Asakusa Samba Carnival, a late-summer Tokyo highlight, returned Sunday following a four-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with sounds of passionate Brazilian music and explosive percussion filling a street in downtown Asakusa, drawing 300,000 spectators.
More than 2,500 people in 16 samba teams, including many dressed in colorful costumes, danced and sang while bands played Brazilian music as they paraded Asakusa's Kaminarimon Street, passing a landmark gate that leads to the popular Sensoji Temple.
The event was scaled down from the previous one, with a shorter parade course and without its typical contest format inspired by Rio de Janeiro's world-famous Carnival. Samba teams also did not have floats.
This year, spectators were prohibited from sitting on the ground along the street or using chairs and tripods amid overcrowding concerns.
Since its start in 1981, the carnival has grown into a major event due to support from festival-loving locals, its organizing committee said, boasting it is the largest Brazilian carnival in the Northern Hemisphere. The event attracted some 500,000 spectators in 2019.
However, the annual samba parade was canceled between 2020 and 2022 following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
Nobuyuki Suwa, chairman of the Asakusa Samba Carnival organizing committee, explained that over a year ago when preparations began, the committee decided to scale down the event. The decision was made due to the stagnant Japanese economy at the time, brought about by the pandemic, and the challenges faced in securing funding for the event, he said.
He also noted that samba teams had seen fewer members joining music and dance practices then.
"This round is a step toward holding a full-fledged event next year or later," Suwa told Kyodo News.
The annual event was first held 42 years ago by an association of stores in Asakusa to revitalize the area, according to the organizing committee.
The event has been held in the same spirit as the Rio de Janeiro celebration, with some local volunteers even visiting Brazil's second-most populous city to experience its unique atmosphere and bring the vibrant spirit back home, it said.