November is getting closer and with it the annual torinoichi markets. You might have seen the often very colorful and excessively large kumade (熊手) at shops, homes and offices around Tokyo. The names can be very confusing, Torinoichi literally translates as Rooster Market (the bird) but it has nothing to do with birds. Also the kumade often called “rakes” in English are actually Bear Paws as the Japanese names makes it look like, but acutally large fan shaped bamboo structures traditionally decorated with masks and painted gold coins (koban). The name torinochi, bird market, comes from the tradition of holding these markets on the day of the rooster, which is every twelfth day in November. So each year there are two or three market days. The torinoichi days of 2014 fall on Monday the 10th and Saturday the 22nd. The first day is called Ichinotori (一の酉) and the second day is called Ninotori (二の酉).
The whole traditions started in Asakusa, at the famous Otori Shrine roughly around the 1750-1760 and were meant to celebrate the mythological Gods Ameno-Hiwashino-Mikoto and Yamato-Takeruno-Mikoto. The kumade are purchased and brought home or to your business to invoke good luck, fortune and success for the coming year or to give thanks for the past year. They are usually displayed near or at the home altar or somewhere in the office or in the shop. The bigger the kumade the more expensive they get so most of the people I know who buy these are small business owners, having them in your home is a bit more unusual but they would make for absolutely unique souvenirs.
The Otori shrine itself is not much to see on non-market days, it is rather small and crammed in between grey concrete office buildings but on the days of the torinoichi it comes alive with about 300 market stalls. The selling is very colorful and each transaction is marked with a rhythmic hand clapping, the customer and seller together.
The Otori shrine is located north of Sensoji in Asakusa, maybe a 15 minutes walk from the Asakusa subway station, but there are several other shrines organizing torinoichi markets around Tokyo and the kanto area. The most famous ones in Tokyo being in Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku and in Sensoji itself.
You can see the kumade and the ceremonies and the stalls at my older posts:
A tradition associated with this festival and shrine but which is completely gone now and will never re-appear is the opening of the gates to the Yoshiwara district. The small gated city within the city of old Edo was completely closed off to common people but on these market days it would open its gates to anyone and it was a great chance for the business owners inside the Yoshiwara to organize a small market and to earn a bit of extra income before the debt- and tax collectors would show up in December to demand the final payments for the year. The Yoshiwara district was opened to the public in the late 19th century, almost burnt down in 1913 and the last of the gates were destroyed in the 1923 earthquake. In 1958 the district was finally abolished by the government.
At the Yamato Museum in the port city of Kure near Hiroshima it is possible to view on of very few surviving Zero fighters, the near legendary aircraft that dominated the skies of the early Pacific War some 70 years ago. It is a close relative to the Zero fighter on display in Tokyo’s Yasukuni war museum. This model Zero was designed for long range carrier operations and belonged to the 210th Naval Air Force Squadron at the Meiji base near Anjo City, Aichi Prefecture. I believe it is this model 62 that was used in the infamous Kamikaze attacks. This particular plane rested on the bottom of Lake Biwa where it crashed due to engine failure in August 1945. The pilot survived and was on hand to help in restoration when it was picked out of the lake in 1978 almost intact.
Being so close to these old war planes they really do look amazingly big and heavy, far from the agile “birds” that you see in movies. Even if you can’t go to Kure to see this one for yourself, I recommend visiting the one in Yasukuni, where you even see it without buying a ticket to the museum itself.
Last weekend we could enjoy the biggest festival in all of Saitama Prefecture, the Kawagoe Matsuri. It is easy to forget about Saitama prefecture, dwarfed by it neighbor Tokyo to the south it is still a formidable economy in itself. Ranked as an independent country, the GDP of Saitama would place it somewhere between Portugal and Ireland. It has a population of almost 8 million and presumably about 12% of those visited the festival over the weekend. Not bad! But I am sure a lot of the visitors were from Tokyo.
The main draw of the festival are the legions of giant Dashi, or mobile festival platforms pulled about on giant ropes by the townspeople of the neighborhoods they represent. In the beginning of the festival they roam about over a large area but the later it gets the more of them converge on the main stretch in Kawagoe City’s old town, making for one spectacular and hugely congested traffic jam. Late at night most visitors have left already but the streets of Kawagoe old town are still so packed it yesterday took me about 30 minutes to move 100 meters. As I mentioned in a blog post last week, security was beefed up after last month’s accident involving a dashi at a festival in western Japan, all the dashi had new wheelguards installed (it looked a bit jury rigged but if it can prevent any accidents I am all for it) and there were twice as many police and security guards present as last year. If you are visiting with small children I recommend not brining any pram or baby stroller and to travel as light as possible. I saw some parents literally tied together with their children to avoid losing them in the throngs.
Despite the huge crowds, I am already looking forward to next year’s festival!
Last night was the first of the two days of the annual Kawagoe Matsuri in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. Kawagoe is an old trading town and because it escaped the bombing raids of the war a remarkable number of old Edo period houses and streets have survived, earning it the nickname of “Little Edo”, or Koedo (小江戸). The nickname is reflected in the famous local beer brewery making use of another of the town’s specialities, the sweet potato.
The first night of the festival was held in near perfect weather, although for my photography I would have wanted more clouds to help brighten up the city a little. It was intensely crowded as usual and as much as I tried I could not find all of the dashi. All in all it was a perfect evening for a festival and a perfect festival in itself! The second night of the festival has already started and if you are interested I suggested heading up to Kawagoe by using any of the three stations, Honkawagoe, Kawagoeshi or Kawagoe. Enjoy!