If you have free time in Tokyo tonight and are not too afraid of a little rain I recommend visiting Kyodo for their fantastic Awaodori festival, complete with a parade and stage set. Actually it is part of a two day local town festival which ties in with the Tokyo University of Agriculture, so rather than the normal shrine celebrations you will get everything from folk dance (mainly Saturday) to samba (on the Sunday). You can get more details from their homepage (in Japanese only) but generally the Awaodori kicks in from 1830 to 1900 on Saturday. I have never seen the samba carnival my self but it looks fantastic and starts at 1830 on Sunday. There is stuff happening from 1430 on Saturday and from 1400 on Sunday so even if you can’t stay for the whole thing it is worth going and just enjoying the atmosphere.
Here are some photos of the proud local team, the Kyodo Murasakiren (経堂むらさき連) who will be performing with eight other, all relatively well known Tokyo teams, including a couple of my personal favorites.
The grand torii of the Itsukushima Shrine is one of the many reasons that Hiroshima’s Miyajima Island is considered one of the top tourist attractions of Japan (in my opinion, even maybe the top attraction). At high tide the torii sits seemingly in the middle of the ocean but on low tide the water recedes and you can easily walk right up to it.
This torii was designed not to be anchored to the ground, it actually remains in place just by its own weight which makes it more or less earth quake proof. During high tide many tourist boats pass through ut and I as is customary people like to offer money to the gate. At low tide the money becomes visible in droves underneath the gate, in some places it piles up in droves. Still, to pick anything up or remove any of the money would be big no-no, so most people leave it alone where it is.
It was raining during most of my visit and together with this being a weekday afternoon meant that there were quite few other tourists during my visit. I even managed to meet one of the many wild deer out for a stroll later in the afternoon after the school kids and tourists had left.
If there is one thing that Hiroshima is more well known for than the special Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, it must be the hodgepodge fleet of streetcars servicing the city day in and day out. Unlike other cities of similar size in Japan, it was not technically possible to build an underground railway here due to the myriad streams and rivers crisscrossing the city and the poor soil conditions of the relatively few patches of dry ground. Instead the city for a long time relied on a system of streetcars operated by the Hiroshima Railway company, Hiroden for short. The streetcars are slow and not very comfortable but they do the trick of transporting people from one end of town to the other economically and conveniently. Theses days a couple of lines even go quite far out of the city into the neighboring towns and villages.
The Hiroshima streetcars are especially well known by streetcar lovers all over the world for the myriad of makes and models that traffic the system to this day. The oldest cars are almost a century old and the newest just a few years young, making for a very interesting mix of vehicles. You never know what kind you will be riding until it turns up at your stop! About half the cars are articulated, double-cars, while the rest are ordinary single cars like the ones we sometimes see in other parts of Japan.
During the war electricity was rationed and very few of the cars were running on that faithfull day of August 6th, but all of them suffered considerable damage. Most amazingly, the plucky 651 which was very close to the nuclear bomb detonation is actually still in service! When the bomb dropped, all 81 people onboard were killed instantly and only one person survived, but it wasn’t long until the 651 was repaired and put back into service. I missed getting a shot of it myself, mostly because it is only occasionally put into use in the morning rush hour traffic, but if you are in Hiroshima on August 8th, you will be sure to see it as it is always put into traffic on that day. I have borrowed a couple of photos of it from Wikipedia, which you can see at the end of this post.
Sorry for the terrible photos, it was raining almost my entire visit to Hiroshima. I hope for more sunshine the next time I visit!
Awaodori festival season has started and one of the bigger festivals of the summer is the Shimokitzawa Awaodori festival. It’s a two day event, on the 9th and 10th of August, from 18:30 to 20:30. The narrow streets of Shimokitazawa makes for a very intimate and friendly festival where the audience is very close to the dancers. The drummers especially can be dangerous so it is usually best to stand back a little.
I saw the Yattokoren at last year’s festival, one of the local Shimokitazawa teams. The shotengai, or shopping street, where the festival takes place is called Ichibangai which has been place of commerce since the 1920s and really grew big after the second world war as most if survived the bombings and many merchants from other areas flocked to Shimokitazawa. The Awaodori festival was started in 1966 and this year’s festival will be the 49th.
Shimokitazawa is a great place to hang out and there’s plenty of shops and unique little restaurants and alleys to explore, so if you have time in August this year, make sure to visit!
The festival has an English homepage here.