At Sensoji temple, the priests have shifted the incense cauldron to the side of the main approach, to make room for the New Year’s crowds. You waft the healing smoke over your afflicted parts, that’s the idea. Leave the rest to Kannon, Goddess of Mercy.

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Everyone loves this ritual. There’s a big crush at the rim, near the smoke, near the flame. Feel the heat. Can you see? The camera is trapped somewhere at waist height. Heart, brain, heart, brain, says the man beside you. He scoops up as much smoke as he can, rubbing his head and chest. If it were soap bubbles he’d be in a complete lather. Heart, brain, heart, brain. He laughs, I need this! He’s not a tourist. No! I come from right next door, Saitama, the neighbouring prefecture. Well, distance is relative when you’re talking about the afterlife. I come here often, he says. I come every year, to the Sanja Matsuri. You know, I carry the o-mikoshi! Bye bye!

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Snapping into the sun and the oncoming crowd, you never noticed your own goddess of mercy. (But…isn’t everyone?) Nice one, mademoiselle.

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