Last weekend was the high point of the year for all Awaodori fans in and around Tokyo. Two massive festivals took place, the grand Koenji Awaodori Festival and also the Minamikoshigaya Awaodori Festival up in Saitama Prefecture, just north of Tokyo. The Saitama festival takes place on broad modern streets, much different from the intimate and down to earth Koenji festival, so there is a big difference in how the two festivals compare. Although not nearly as big and varied as the Koenji festival the Minamikoshigaya festival manages to attract several of genuine Tokushima teams which are generally regarded as the best in the world. It is not really fair to compare the teams, but there are some truly exceptional teams in terms of skill to be seen in this festival. One of them, a personal favorite and quite famous around the country is the Ebisuren straight from Tokushima Prefecture itself. They performed late in the evening of this very long festival but gave a near perfect performance, as usual.
Next year come August, if you wan’t to see Awaodori but are not too keen on the crowds of Koenji, I recommend trying out Minamikoshigaya, it is easy to get there from Tokyo as the Hanzomon subway line connects all the way through.
I took so many photos at the grand, once every three years, Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri a couple of weeks ago. This year I wasn’t about to get as close as last time I visited the festival and got doused in water, ruining my camera. So, here’s a few of the second-best shots, as close as i dared going. I visited on the Saturday of the festival while the main event was on the Sunday, so I missed the fire department and their big hoses for showing the omikoshi and the people underneath!
Tokyo is full of history and interesting stories if you just know where to look and aren’t too distracted by the food, the fun and the shopping! I have passed these two statues at the famous Sensoji Temple in Japan’s number one tourist site, Asakusa, maybe over a thousand times but I only recently learned about the history of them.
In the first half of the 17th century when Edo was the trading and crafts center of Japan and the home of the ruling Shogun (Warlord) a struggling trader in rice took in a small boy from modern day Gunma prefecture and did his best to teach him about trade and commerce. Eventually the boy returned to his home town and started a very successful trading business. His old master though was not so lucky and died impoverished and destitute. The former apprentice, Takase Zembe, heard of the tragedy and ordered two huge statues of the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi. They were donated in 1678 to the memory of the rice merchant and his son. Both the statues miraculously survived the US fire bombings of 1945 and they are still in their original positions to the right of the second Nio gate.
But the story doesn’t end there, because almost 300 years later one of Zembe’s direct descendants, Takase Jiro who was the Japanese ambassador to Sri Lanka in 1996 developed a cultural exchange and partnership between the Sensoji Temple and the famous Isurumuniya Vihara temple in Anuradhapura, the capital of ancient Ceylon (Sri Lanka). As the Senso-ji’s pagoda was rebuilt in 1973, the temple in Sri Lanka dispatched its senior abbot to the dedication ceremony, bringing with him a granule of the physical remains of the Buddha, a massively important relic, to dedicate to the Japanese temple.
The granule remains in the pagoda to this day and I hope both it and the two statues representing the gratitude of a devoted apprentice to his former master will remain for many thousands of years to come.
I passed the statues a little while ago, and found them occupied by two birds who posed perfectly for the camera.
The biggest mainland Awaodori festival of the year is taking place right now at Koenji. The massive Koenji festival attracts almost a million visitors and features over 10 000 dancers and musicians in one of the most epic festivals of the year here in Tokyo. Starting at 1700 these days (but with plenty of sporadic dancing from around noon to 1600 during the day as well) you get a good view of the teams in daylight as well as dusk and evening. I took these photos of the Hisagoren (ひさご連) at yesterday’s festival. Especially the chibi dancers up front were as cute as buttons!
Tonight will be even better as the teams give their best for the final show. Since this is the biggest event for many teams around Japan many of them have been training hard especially for this night, so if you are in Tokyo and don’t mind the heat and the crowds, go over there and cheer them on!