It is winter and the toughest thing about this season for me is to survive without visiting any Awaodori dance festivals! Thankfully I have Youtube to see me through the winter, with thousands of videos of my favorite teams. Here are some photos from the Minamikoshigaya Awaodori Festival (南越谷阿波踊り) in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. This might be the second biggest Awaodori festival in the Kanto area, and it usually takes place at the same time as the biggest one, the Koenji Awaodori Festival in Tokyo, something which is really annoying for us Awa fans. The festival in Saitama attracts some fantastic teams, even some genuine Tokushima teams that we generally never see in this part of country, so it is well worth skipping one day of the Koenji festival to check this one out as well. The festival itself is quite different from other Awaodori festivals as the streets used a two or three times as wide as the widest Tokyo streets, so the ambience and the photography is quite different. Being used to being so close to the dancers that you can see every drop of sweat, the Koshigaya festival takes some getting used to.
I took these photos of some beautiful members of several different teams, the Koushoukai Asunaroren (工匠会あすなろ連), the Inaseren (いなせ連), the Hibuki (飛舞伎), the Miyabiren (雅連) and the Hokushinren (北辰連). I can’t wait for next summer to come around!
Today and tomorrow is the peak of the week long Chichibuyo Matsuri, or the the Chichibu Night Festival. It is hands down the best winter festival in the Kanto area and possibly the last great festival of the year. I would love to go there but scheduling conflicts will keep me firmly put here in Tokyo. Chichibu is located north west of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, and a little too far to go just for a couple of hours in the evening. If you have all day today or tomorrow I really recommend heading up there though! You can read my posts about last year’s festival over here. The best way to get from Tokyo to Chichibu is by trains leaving from Ikebukuro. There are several lines and different train options depending on your budget and it is a fantastic combination trip to see both the evening festival and the autumn leaves in nearby Nagatoro.
Another great festival that also started out as a night festival is the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s south-western Chufu City. This festival is famous for it’s massive drums that require a crew of over twenty to operate and move around. These drums are so large that two or more persons usually stand on top of them! I took these photos of the much smaller children’s drums, as well as a couple of shots of the other famous thing in the Kurayami festival, the large and colorful mantou which are spun by the largest and strongest dancers of the community. You can see my other posts about the Kurayami festival here.
I took these photos after the rain we had during this year’s Shibuya festival let up. The omikoshi of the famous Dogenzaka neighborhood that traditionally starts in front of Shibuya station and goes up towards Shinsen station was out in force, the only concession to the rain being the plastic wrapped around the paper lanterns.
The origins of the name Dogenzaka is contested, but the slope can be named after an old temple that used to be located on the top of the hill. During the Edo period the road was surrounded by wild woods and fields with a clear view of Mount Fuji at the end. As Edo became Tokyo in the later part of the 19th century Dogenzaka became a market place for farmers selling their produce and Shibuya was developed as modern westernized town with electric street lights and everything. These days it is hard to believe that Dogenzaka was ever anything else than highly developed commercial district, but in fact there is a short row of five buildings that are almost 90 years old and survived several earthquakes and a World War. I will save that story for a later blog post though. There are a few interesting photos on this site of old historical Dogenzaka.
I was suprised to read that 758 people are officially registered as living in Dougenzaka, I think quite a good percentage of them joined in the Shibuya festival and helped carry their omikoshi, men, women and quite a lot of kids! They did a great job stopping the traffic while the omikoshi slowly passed.
Someday I would love to talk to someone who was born and lived all their life in Dogenzaka. They must have some incredible stories to tell!
At the budo, or martial arts, tournament and exhibition at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine a few weeks ago I saw this wonderful performance of Yabusame or mounted horse archery. I have written previously about the glory of Yabusame (I am completely in love with this sport) so if you are interested in the details of the sport head over to that post from 2011. This year’s Yabusame at Meiji Shrine was slightly unusual due to the high number of very talented female archers. You could tell from the excited reactions of the audience when they were being introduced that female archers make a wildly popular sport even more popular! The biggest drawback with Yabusame is that it is a very audience unfriendly sport. For the effort involved in setting things up and the costs involved, very few people can actually see it and the most devoted audience members had already staked out their spots on the grass 5-6 hours before the event even started! The action is also very rapid – the announcer will announce that an archer has left the staging area on the left, you hear the thunder of the hooves and in a split second the horse thunders past you – a cheer from the crowd if there is a hit, once, twice, maybe three times. It is all over very quickly and if you lose you concentration you might miss the best bit. I was plonked firmly at the front end of the audience section, wedged between two other photographers so I go to see the horses right the moment before had reached full speed, but even with my fast camera I missed many passes. Still, there is no sport on Earth like Yabusame and it’s an incredible rush to be within touching distance of horse and rider thundering past!