The last day of the Shitaya Shrine (下谷神社) festival is also the biggest, when they bring out the huge main omikoshi of the shrine for a 12 hour long tour of the entire parish, including almost everything from the south of the Yamanote line train tracks from between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations in the west to Ueno station itself in the east, to the Shrine itself in the south. Along the route the huge omikoshi (that requires several times the number of carriers than the more usual smaller omikoshi) is handed over to different neighborhood teams several times. The handovers are a chance for the braves of all neighborhoods to claim a piece of the action and fighting is not unusual. In fact there are dozens of police officers following the omikoshi along with dozens more at the ready whenever the huge group of people involved in the procession hits major roads and traffic points.
I was interested to see how the omikoshi would be able to pass the narrow shopping streets of Ameya Yokocho. As I arrived the small shops were shutting down and boarding up much to the bemusements of local shoppers who had not seen the festival approaching. As the omikoshi came along an unstoppable wave of people proceeded it and basically vacuumed the street clean of anything in its path. I was lucky to stand very close to a side street but even then I was pushed several yards into the side street while trying to make sure no-one was trampled underneath!
After having been pushed out of the Yokocho I went around the back streets to the foot bridges connecting Okachimachi with the Ueno station to get a great view of the mayhem. It was especially interesting to see the way the police maneuvered, in groups with banners and bullhorns. In such large numbers radios become useless and when visibility is no farther than what your arm can reach you need tall banners to direct you troops around. It looked more like a medieval battle than a modern festival! All in all, great fun!
Today is no ordinary day – it is the Mother’s Day here in Japan, celebrated on the second Sunday of May every year. Hahanohi (母の日) is apparently the busiest day of the year for florists across the country, so if you are going out to pick up some flowers for your mother today spare a thought for the staff in the flower shop as well! I saw these two panda in Tokyo’s Ueno district, famous for its pandas. Happy Mother’s day everyone – present as well as future moms!
I took these photos of one of the more popular tourist destinations in Tokyo on Midnight eve last year, just as the stores and the fishmongers were closing down I was stopped by a phalanx of guardmen advancing down the street followed by a veritable armada or convoy of garbage trucks. The Ameyokocho is famous for its incredible high turnover shopping and it is packed to its limits with people most of the day and now I finally got to see what happens at closing time when all the garbage needs to be cleared up. It was beautifully choreographed and over in a matter of minutes. With the crew of trucks, the drivers and the guards clearing the way ahead there must have been well over 50 people sweeping down on each narrow street, clearing up small mountains of garbage in one fell swoop.
Garbage disposal in central Tokyo with its population of between 13 and 15 million people (depending on the time of the day) is a massive undertaking. The majority of all household garbage is sorted and recycled while strict rules handle industrial and construction waste. The burnable garbage collected is incinerated and creates heat, electricity and material for the many landfill projects ongoing in the capital. It has been calculated that if the waste material was not burned but simply dumped into Tokyo bay the the entire bay would be filled in less than a century at the current pace. Moving all of this material to somewhere less populated and then burning it is an impossible project. There is nowhere within a couple of hours drive from central Tokyo that is not as densely populated as London! Hence there are waste disposal plants scattered all over the city with state of the art emissions control. The plants have gotten around the “not in my backyard mentality” by incorporating free sports and pool facilities providing plenty of incentives for neighborhood to host these plants.
Air quality in Tokyo is generally good to excellent, much better than in many small town and cities in Europe. In spring however the air usually turns quite bad as pollution with a poetic sense of justice drifts over from China. Since so much of the pollution comes from producing goods that are actually used by the people of Tokyo.
But apart from the well thought out garbage collection in Ameyokocho the area is hugely popular with residents and tourists alike for it old time feel and the bargains to be had. It is also great fun to listen to the banter and the peculiar dialects of the fishmongers as they compete for customer attention at the top of their voices. It is a marvel any of these men still have vocal cords at all! The last few photos are from the main street of Ueno as you escape Ameyokocho just to the south. And I could not not share this photo of the statue of Saigo Takamori walking his dog.
Oh, and this happens to be the 1900th post online right now (not including the posts I have deleted along the way). Maybe I will hit 2000 posts sometime in August this year?