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.
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.
Moving these omikoshi around is definitively a team effort. It would probably be much easier with about a dozen members but that would be defeating the purpose of this exercise, which is partly to create a group effort to help train the parishioners in pulling together, trusting each other and working as a group rather than a bunch of individuals. It is supposed to be difficult, and getting so many people to pull in one direction is very difficult indeed. The omikoshi took quite some time to finally stop, see-sawing it’s way through the crowd and requiring quite some effort from the leaders of the neighborhood to push it back when it got to close to the final position. At the end, the neighborhood leader will stand on one of the uma, the wooden blocks where the omikoshi is placed to rest, and guide it forward, close enough so that he is able to step up on it and signal the lowering of the omikoshi by clacking to wooden blocks together. It is great fun to see how well coordinated the different omikoshi teams around Tokyo are! The members of this one was very energetic!
The festival season is definitively over but this year’s was a good one. One of my favorite festivals from last season was the Kitazawahachimangu Matsuri (北澤八幡宮祭り) in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. I followed one of the omikoshi belonging to the Yonchome neighborhood just to the south of the shrine. Not all of Yonchome are actually within the parish of this shrine but for this festival I think all of the neighborhood is invited, parishioners or not. They were the last team to brave the stairs and carry the more than a 1000kg heavy omikoshi up towards the shrine. There are actually two large stairs leading up to the shrine but the last one is just too steep so the omikoshi stay on the second stage. That stair is steep enough though and tourists and festival goers scattered over the rails to get out of the way as the omikoshi charged up. Other less adventurous (and probably smarter) photographers stood out of the way well in advance. Myself I made a less glamour but very nimble exit over the railings. More photos to come!