Yesterday I rushed through one of my favorite festivals here in Tokyo, the massive Mitamamatsuri at the Yasukuni Shrine. Yesterday was the start of the four day event that goes on until Wednesday. Since it was a Sunday there were more people than I have ever seen at this festival before, but the rest of festival should not be so crowded. If you are in Tokyo today or this week, you really should go!
Yesterday saw one of Tokyo’s newest and least well known Awaodori festivals, near the northern Itabashi Ward’s station Hasune, not very far from Saitama Prefecture. The festival has only a very short history so far so there are very few tourists around. Four teams participated and I caught two of them at the very start, Tomoeren and Shinsuiren. Lots of kids and young families turned up to watch and it was great to get a little bit of Awaodori in this first multi team event of the season in Tokyo.
Next up is the Awaodori festival in Niiza City, southern Saitama prefecture next weekend! More photos from the Hasune festival to come.
The old and venerable Ebara Shrine (荏原神社) in south Shinagawa puts on a musketry show once a year and I managed to catch it last year. A group of musket men in authentic armor and warrior’s equipment take up positions on a bridge to the south of the shrine and let lose a few volleys. I always try to catch these shows and I always forget to bring the most vital piece of equipment when photographing them: a tripod stand for the camera! The noise is so loud, no matter how much you prepare yourself there is no way you can stop from jumping when they all fire at once, hence the very few non-shaky pictures!
Ebara Shrine is well worth a visit even without the muskets as it is one of the oldest shrines in Tokyo, completed in 709 A.D.
Last month’s Yoshiwara Gionsai was just as exciting and fun as usual. I could only make it there for the second day, missing the huge tree procession of the day before. One of the peculiar things about this local festival is the omikoshi which is covered in bamboo grass and moved in a way that is different from most other omikoshi. It is take around the parish districts by teams divided by neighborhood and at each handover an ceremony where a bottle of sea water is emptied over the head of the headsman of the omikoshi team. Although many omikoshi teams are now unisex this one is still only open to males, for at least one obvious reason I would only discover when actually trying to lift the omikoshi: it is incredibly physically demanding and space is very limited, so you need as many of the strongest people you can fit, and preferably all of the same height! There is even several points in the procession where the omikoshi stops and is jumped up and down. I don’t know if the sense of fear is stronger than the sense of pain and exhaustion, but failure is not an option!
It is great fun to follow the omikoshi careening through the streets. In the old days it used to be even wilder and different neighborhoods would wrestle for control of it – in mid procession! But a few years ago a straying omikoshi took out a whole stand of festival food and it was decided to calm things down a bit. The women of the neighborhood are kept busy – preparing and handling the hand over ceremonies, following the omikoshi around cooling it off with water and making sure not too many innocent bystanders are caught in the procession!
All in all great fun and if you are in Shizuoka (or in Tokyo and don’t mind the train travel) I can really recommend this festival for next year!