Last weekend Shinjuku saw the annual Hanazono Shrine festival, the Hanazono Retaisai (花園神社例大祭 in Japanese). Most shrines have several festivals or matsuri doing the year, but the one to look out for is the reisai or reitaisai, which is a name give to the most important festival of the year for the shrine in question. As with all reitaisai, the different neighborhoods belonging to the shrine did their part and fielded huge teams of omikoshi bearers, standard bearers and musicians. I got a little late to the festival’s last day, but I managed to catch the Sankouchou (三光町) team as they finished their rounds, on the small back street between the shrine and the fantastic little area knowns as Golden Gai. Sankouchou is the old name (pre-1970s) for what is today, mostly Kabukichou Ichoume (歌舞伎町一丁目) and a handful of other locations around that area. Most interestingly, it includes Golden Gai and a large part of one of Asia’s largest red light districts, Kabukichou. Like churches and parishes in Christian countries, the old parish boundaries are still usually in use when it comes to festivals and traditions, which is also true in Japan. The address you live in decides which “parish” shrine you belong to, and you should look it up. It is not always the biggest or the closest shrine to your house.
The Hanazono shrine is the main shrine of the area to the east of Shinjuku station and therefore one of the most important shrines in Tokyo! The festival is a huge three day event and the last day saw a lot of streets being closed of for traffic to accommodate the omikoshi and the crowds. Great fun and definitely one of the most accessible shrine festivals in Japan. It’s a family thing with lot of people from all ages and all walks of life, from the underworld to the highest ranking politicians, and at the end, some really tired children. Enjoy!
Well, not really the kind of crowd surfing you’d get at an Iron Maiden concert but close enough! Here’s a few brave (really brave) women riding on the giant omikoshi (heavy, wooden ritual palanquins) that are used in most Japanese local festivals. These omikoshi aren’t as much carried as clung to and often move as much horizontally as vertically. The scores of people shouldering it has no way of directing it or telling what’s happening around them so they rely on a leader in front of them to direct them. It must be quite an experience to be allowed up on these shrines, sometimes you see kids doing it but in this festival at Akagi Shrine in Kagurazaka three women were more or less thrown up on it. The first lady was doing her best to direct the team to let her down but I think they misunderstood her shouting! The second two young ladies were cooler about it. It must be really hard to keep your balance up there as it sways across the street!