I visited the first evening of the big Torigoe Shrine Festival in Tokyo’s Taito ward on Saturday. The main day of the matsuri is on Sunday, but the evening before was plenty fun with a thousands of people joining in the festivities as well as standing around enjoying the show! A few of the smaller omikoshi made their way into the shrine while the big famous one waited silently for the big event the following evening. The omikoshi at this festival are all beautifully lit with real candles in long narrow paper lanterns. More photos to come!
The second batch of photos from the second day of the Hanazono Jinja festival in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Of the hundreds of festivals I have visited so far, this is the only one where I got so close to the action that I was actually manhandled by one of the festival guys and lifted out of the way, quite possibly for my own good – I am ready to do a lot to get “the photo”, but getting trampled by three ton of omikoshi and people is a little bit too much! Shinjuku festivals are always lively, and this is one of the best. If you missed this year’s festival you should def. not miss next year’s, as it is going to be about three times as lively and three times as packed with people enjoying themselves!
Here are some photos of this year’s cherry blossom viewing in picturesque little Kakunodate in Japan’s north western Akita prefecture. I went up there to catch these on behalf of Special.T, and the photos were used in marketing their sakura flavored tea. You can find more photos from me and other photographers on their Pinterest board. Kakunodate is one of the most famous spots for cherry blossom viewing in northern Japan, not only for the fantastic trees, but also for the well preserved and historic samurai houses left intact in the center of the town. If you are foreigner visiting Japan and have plenty of time I recommend getting the rail pass which gives you unlimited access to the shinkansen and local trains all over the country. As a “local” I can’t do this, but I am always envious of the great deal offered to foreign tourists! It might look very far on the map, but Hakunodate is feasible even as a day trip: first or second train out of Tokyo and one of the last three back. Perfect!
While taking a break from photographing the flowers I met this handsome dog, Mitchell was his name and like a good Japanese dog he totally ignored me even when I called him by name, focusing completely on his master across the street!
A couple of weeks ago I visited the biggest festival near Shinjuku station, at and around Hanazono Shrine near Kabukicho. This year’s festival was a “shadow” festival (kagematsuri, 陰祭り), so it wasn’t as lively as last year’s. Many shrines have “shadow” and “front” festivals, where the shrine’s own omikoshi comes out only on the “front” festival years. Usually this is once every two or three years. Some shrine festivals are never “shadow festivals”. These “Shadow” festivals usually finish earlier and are a little less rowdy, but unless you are a regular festival visitor you probably wouldn’t notice the difference. Here’s a first selection of the morning of the second day, as the shrine officials have a ceremony and get ready to bless the omikoshi before sending them on their way throughout the neighborhood!
In a few of the photos you can see the ritual clapping that is done to signal the start or end of the omikoshi . It is signaled by the leader of the group who gets upp in front of the omikoshi and claps with a pair of large wooden blocks. Immediately after he is done he is almost pulled down from the stand in order not to get crushed when the eager members rush to get the best places under the omikoshi. It looks almost comical when he is pulled down in the blink of an eye by the largest member of the group. The same ritual is repeated backwards when ending the omikoshi and every leader has his own way of clapping and signaling the end. Be too long about it and you’ll receive jeers, be too quick and people will jeer as well, it’s a difficult position but somebody must fill it! More photos to come!