More photos from one of my favorite festivals in Tokyo, the grand Hanazono Jinja Matsuri! While being a people’s festival rooted in the local neighborhoods, these days very few people actually live in the parish, so many of the participants are people working in the area or having businesses here, which makes for an interesting crowd. These photos show the main procession, the priests, the dashi (a mobile music platform) pulled by shrine maidens and last but not least several of the omikoshi taking part in the festival. These pass right in front of the famous Isetan departement store in the heart of Shinjuku. As you can see from the photos it gets very crowded! I am already looking forward to next year’s festival which will be much smaller but fun still!
A couple of weeks ago saw the grand Hanazono Jinja festival in Tokyo’s capital, Shinjuku. The festival centers on the Hanazono Shrine almost hidden behind a few tall buildings in Kabukicho. This year was the grand festival in which the main omikoshi of the shrine gets taken out accompanied by a special dashi or festival wagon pulled by a team of the stronger miko, shrine maidens. The dashi is staffed by a kids and adults performing the traditional hayashi music style so famous in Japanese festivals. While all this is going on there are also multiple omikoshi doing the rounds of the parish, and even a few kid sized versions for the smaller members of the community. This is also one of the more crowded festivals of Tokyo and gets a lot of attention in media and tourist information centers. Now, this area of Shinjuku is not the most middle class place to hang out, so the festival can be a little rougher around the edges, drawing a wilder crowd than most festivals. Still there are plenty of families and kids taking part and since this is Japan, it is very safe as long as you stay away from the massive omikoshi!
The first four photos show one of the neighborhood omikoshi just on the edge of Shinjuku’s Golden Gai!
One of the great spring festivals of Tokyo, the Yushima Tenjin Matsuri was as good as usual this year too. I didn’t have much time to spend on it, but I managed to be there for when the omikoshi entered the shrine for the end of the first day’s ceremonies. The omikoshi of this shrine is quite tall and the historical bronze tori (the gate at the front of every shrine, this one being the oldest bronze tori in existence in Tokyo) is quite short making for an interesting moment when the omikoshi is carefully maneuvered into the shrine grounds. Clearing the tori always elicits a cheer from the audience of festival goers!
The path from the tori to the main shrine is usually lined with all kinds of yatai, selling food, drinks and games to adults and kids. One of the most popular is the classic “kingyosuku” or Goldfish Rescue where kids try to fish as many goldfish as possible from a tub of water using a thin piece of paper. I can never understand how they do it. However some parents are not too fond of the idea of a yearly increase of live goldfish so the alternative game of Rubber Ball Rescue is usually even more popular. Fish a certain number of balls from a tub of water. Not as challenging but the kids love picking out their favorite balls. If you have kids and visit a Japanese festival, this might be the best game you can have them try out as the owners of the stands never let a kid go home empty handed!
At Yushima Tenjin’s Umematsuri (Plum blossom festival) I got totally carried away with the fun and energy of the crowd carrying the omikoshi around the shrine and took loads of pictures. During summer I typically go to see one or two festivals every week but in the winter there are so few opportunities to see them. The festival was in honor of the plum blossoms, which indeed made a brave appearance in the cold rain, white and bright pink ones. Come summer there will probably be hundreds of kilos of plums ready for the harvest here, hopefully turned into pickled sour plums or umeshu, the super sweet plum liquor.
After having completed its rounds around the shrine, the omikoshi is carried towards the main torii, or gate. The torii of Yushima Tenjin is very special, as it is made in bronze rather than the more common wood (or even concrete). It is also the oldest bronze torii in Tokyo, dating back to 1667. How it survived World War 2 fundraising campaigns and firebombing raids I have no idea. The shrine is also popular with students hoping for admission to the university of their choice. I found one ema, or votive plaque, where some talented person had offered a prayer to get into Yokohama national university. Good luck!
Having been presented to the priests and gods at the main shrine, the omikoshi is then carried around the shrine to the stage at the back where it is hoisted one last time for the people. I was lucky and got a good spot to take photos from. As many people as possible are crammed around the omikoshi to help it get to where it is supposed to go, but as you can see all those people doesn’t make for very much accuracy in movement! The omikoshi almost rammed the director of the group but he was kept up by other supporters with a firm grip on his belt. The omikoshi which can weigh as much as a ton, is much easier to handle with fewer people, as you can see in the last few photos when the ceremony is over and the omikoshi is taken back to its resting place at the side of the shrine.
I can hardly wait for the summer festivals to start up again!