Not all festivals in and around Tokyo are traditional religious or spiritual, there are also quite a few history festivals that give us a chance to enjoy the old clothes, costumes, arms and armor of the times long gone. Several of these festivals take place around the last weekend of October, throughout Japan, not least being the big parade in Nihonbashi tomorrow morning. I saw these mounted samurai warriors at the Kanda Matsuri a few years ago, just as they were exercising their horses at a local elementary school before the main parade. The rather intense rain was forcing us all to keep out heads down though. If you are in Japan today or tomorrow, I recommend looking around to see if there are any history festivals near you!
It is Halloween which just possibly could be the highest point of the season at the newer one of Tokyo’s two different Disney parks, Tokyo Disney Sea. The whole park is decorated in a sort of hyper colorful Mexican Day of the Dead theme with fantastic looking skeletons entertaining the visitors throughout the park. I caught the parade and these stilted performers looking glorious. Tokyo Disney resorts are usually quite bearable on weekdays, but in the high seasons even the weekdays are crowded.
If you are ever wondering which of the two resorts to visit, I’d say the older you are the more likely you are to enjoy Tokyo Disney Sea.
I can’t get enough of the Kawagoe Matsuri which took place over the last weekend and easily one of the most accesible of the big “dashi” festivals here in Kanto. The big wagons are pulled around the town by the townspeople of the neighborhoods they represent, making frequent stops to greet temporary festival platforms on the town main street. One of the frequent guests at these platforms are the Shishinomai, the lion mask dancers whose bite to your head is supposed to be a bessing and good luck ritual for your child. It is great fun to watch these local kids get their head bitten, some wailing in terror and others posing for the photographs, like this little boy.
The most dedicated locals and the ones with special tasks dress up in wonderfully complicated and colorful costumes. A little hard to see at night but they really look great, especially these two fellas who posed for me. One new thing in this year’s festival was the owner of a strategically located second floor room opened it up for photographers (for a fee of course) to come and get an unusual angle on the festivals.
Only one year to wait for the next festival now! Already looking forward to it!
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.