November is getting closer and with it the annual torinoichi markets. You might have seen the often very colorful and excessively large kumade (熊手) at shops, homes and offices around Tokyo. The names can be very confusing, Torinoichi literally translates as Rooster Market (the bird) but it has nothing to do with birds. Also the kumade often called “rakes” in English are actually Bear Paws as the Japanese names makes it look like, but acutally large fan shaped bamboo structures traditionally decorated with masks and painted gold coins (koban). The name torinochi, bird market, comes from the tradition of holding these markets on the day of the rooster, which is every twelfth day in November. So each year there are two or three market days. The torinoichi days of 2014 fall on Monday the 10th and Saturday the 22nd. The first day is called Ichinotori (一の酉) and the second day is called Ninotori (二の酉).
The whole traditions started in Asakusa, at the famous Otori Shrine roughly around the 1750-1760 and were meant to celebrate the mythological Gods Ameno-Hiwashino-Mikoto and Yamato-Takeruno-Mikoto. The kumade are purchased and brought home or to your business to invoke good luck, fortune and success for the coming year or to give thanks for the past year. They are usually displayed near or at the home altar or somewhere in the office or in the shop. The bigger the kumade the more expensive they get so most of the people I know who buy these are small business owners, having them in your home is a bit more unusual but they would make for absolutely unique souvenirs.
The Otori shrine itself is not much to see on non-market days, it is rather small and crammed in between grey concrete office buildings but on the days of the torinoichi it comes alive with about 300 market stalls. The selling is very colorful and each transaction is marked with a rhythmic hand clapping, the customer and seller together.
The Otori shrine is located north of Sensoji in Asakusa, maybe a 15 minutes walk from the Asakusa subway station, but there are several other shrines organizing torinoichi markets around Tokyo and the kanto area. The most famous ones in Tokyo being in Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku and in Sensoji itself.
You can see the kumade and the ceremonies and the stalls at my older posts:
A tradition associated with this festival and shrine but which is completely gone now and will never re-appear is the opening of the gates to the Yoshiwara district. The small gated city within the city of old Edo was completely closed off to common people but on these market days it would open its gates to anyone and it was a great chance for the business owners inside the Yoshiwara to organize a small market and to earn a bit of extra income before the debt- and tax collectors would show up in December to demand the final payments for the year. The Yoshiwara district was opened to the public in the late 19th century, almost burnt down in 1913 and the last of the gates were destroyed in the 1923 earthquake. In 1958 the district was finally abolished by the government.
If you are in north-eastern Shizuoka prefecture this Sunday you might be interested in visiting the tiny but fun Yoshiwara Shukuba Matsuri, with small performances of many different kinds of entertainments and local youth. The biggest attraction would be for fans of one of the world’s youngest traditional dances, the Yosakoi. This little festival gathers several Yosakoi teams and the wide streets makes for an unusually un-crowded viewing. I took these photos at last’s years festival, and you can find more photos from another event at the same spot here.
The festival takes place in Shizuoka Prefecture’s third largest city, Fuji, in the Yoshiwara district. It is pretty easy to reach by local train or Shinkansen and when I was there last year there was even plenty of parking available.
Last month’s Yoshiwara Gionsai was just as exciting and fun as usual. I could only make it there for the second day, missing the huge tree procession of the day before. One of the peculiar things about this local festival is the omikoshi which is covered in bamboo grass and moved in a way that is different from most other omikoshi. It is take around the parish districts by teams divided by neighborhood and at each handover an ceremony where a bottle of sea water is emptied over the head of the headsman of the omikoshi team. Although many omikoshi teams are now unisex this one is still only open to males, for at least one obvious reason I would only discover when actually trying to lift the omikoshi: it is incredibly physically demanding and space is very limited, so you need as many of the strongest people you can fit, and preferably all of the same height! There is even several points in the procession where the omikoshi stops and is jumped up and down. I don’t know if the sense of fear is stronger than the sense of pain and exhaustion, but failure is not an option!
It is great fun to follow the omikoshi careening through the streets. In the old days it used to be even wilder and different neighborhoods would wrestle for control of it – in mid procession! But a few years ago a straying omikoshi took out a whole stand of festival food and it was decided to calm things down a bit. The women of the neighborhood are kept busy – preparing and handling the hand over ceremonies, following the omikoshi around cooling it off with water and making sure not too many innocent bystanders are caught in the procession!
All in all great fun and if you are in Shizuoka (or in Tokyo and don’t mind the train travel) I can really recommend this festival for next year!
At the Yoshiwara Gionsai in Shizuoka Prefecture’s Fuji City last month I saw the local firefighters perform their traditional ladder acrobatics. I am sucker for these performances and never miss one if I am in the general area. This ladder team was very talented and it was a pleasure seeing some new faces (for me). They also performed one of the very rare three person acrobatics!
I have blogged a lot about this kind of traditional Japanese culture before, so if you want to read more about this, just use the tags at the end of the post!