A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Tanabata Festival here in Japan, which means that many shopping streets and town councils put on an event of some kind to entertain and attract customers and people. Although I did not have time to visit any this year, a couple of years ago I saw a great Taiko performance, big drums and lots of them, at the Kappabashi Tanabata festival. The group performing was roughly 50-50 men and women but where I happened to be crouching down there were only women in front of me! Their energy and performance was absolutely fantastic. Watching taiko from up close is a very physical experience as you can feel the drums as much as you can hear it. If you have the chance to see taiko this summer please do, it is one of these amazing cultural things that Japanese do so well.
This group is called Tawoo and seems to be a cultural organization with a more “tribal” look and feel than the traditional taiko groups of Japan. They have offices from Hokkaido to Okinawa and seem pretty well organized. Don’t miss them if you got the chance! They actually perform in the Karasuyama Fureaimatsuri today, if you happen to be close.
The festival at the Senzoku Inari Shrine in the northern parts of Tokyo’s Asakusa district was a first for me, a very small festival which was unusually completely without much of what you expect from a traditional festival, the market stands, the food, the drinks. I didn’t see any of that at this festival. I arrived just as the omikoshi and procession was nearing the end of their journey, right in front of the shrine. I was probably the only non-local there to watch! The last weekend of May is full of events all over Tokyo, so there is a rather stiff competition to gather visitors for any of them.
The Senzoku district is quite small, and only parts of it were traditionally residential. In the old days half of what is now Senzoku was part of the famous Yoshiwara red light district, which has long since disappeared. After the war the place was the home of many ethnic Koreans and had a rather lively Korean market, but for the last 50-60 years it has been a very typical downtown Tokyo neighborhood.
The shrine itself is most famous for being the setting of the famous novel Takekurabe, written by Higuchi Ichuyo in 1895-1896, about local children growing up on the edge of the Yoshiwara red light district. In the novel, the children play in and around the shrine and a few years ago a bust in the honor of Higuchi was unveiled on the shrine grounds. You might recognize her as the face of the 5000 yen note, only the third woman to be featured on a Japanese bank note.
Every year I visit the huge Sanja matsuri, or festival, in Tokyo’s Asakusa area I am sure to catch at least one new animal participant! So far I have seen dogs, marmots, cats, pigs, parrots and even monkeys. This year I saw this wonderfully well dressed little dog, loving the attention and the treats he was getting from the crowds that formed around him.
The tiny paper fan tucked into his obi at the back is a perfect detail. Sorry for the poor picture quality though, the light had almost completely disappeared when I took these and the crowds of people were blocking out what little light came from shops and street lights. If you want to see more festival styled animals, please see this dog here or these cats here and here!