Mitama Festival 1 – Yasukuni Shrine
One of the more “less” known festivals (yes I know, my English….) in Japan is the religious Mitama festival, associated with the the Shinto state religion. It is a festival to honor the spirits of dead ancestors and those who came before us and is especially celebrated at Tokyo’s national Yasukuni Shrine which focuses on the many war dead of Japan’s recent past. I have blogged a lot about Yasukuni before, if you are interested to learn more please read Boy Scouts at Yasukuni Shrine, Mitsubishi A6M Zero, Sayonara Cow and Welcome Tiger, Cherry Blossom Festival Part 1 and Part 2.
There are quite a lot of different opinions on the the real meaning of the word Mitama so today this festival is most often just referred to as みたま in the simple Japanese hiragana script. I visited this festival in mid-July and had a great time at one of my favorite shrines in Japan. Most people who visit a Yasukuni shrine festival are surprised at the very wide range of people coming there to enjoy themselves, from kids to biker gangs, office ladies to politicians and everything in between. Easily the widest range of visitors of any shrine festivals in Japan! So it’s a great place for people watching as well as to take part of the fantastic atmosphere, beautiful grand buildings, entrance free on-site museum and gorgeous garden (at the back, often missed by most visitors).
One of the more striking features of the mitama festival are the yellow colored lanterns with then names of benefactors to the shrine. I don’t remember absolutely correctly, but I think each small lantern represents a donation of about 14 000 yen, money which is used to finance the festival and the shrine’s operations. Most local businesses and many corporations across the countries donate enough to get their name on one or more of the lanterns and many private people as well. It is fun to walk around and check out the writing on the thousands of lanterns covering huge walls leading up for hundreds of meters towards the shrine. Some of the lanterns are very formal just stating family so-and-so, some are marketing ploys with the name of the company spread out over several lanterns or deployed in such a manner to visually stand out among the rest. Very subtly of course! But this year’s big benefactor was without the doubt the man behind the lanterns in the second picture, Mr. Sato! He had an entire wall, hundreds of lanterns, representing his donations. Almost everyone who walked past stopped and gaped, and most people took photos as well. Very unusual indeed. Thank you Mr. 佐藤！