More photos of the kids taking part in the traditional Yushima Tenjin festival near Tokyo’s Ueno district earlier this summer. It’s great seeing them as they do their bit to make sure the tradition continues and to learn the ways of the community. The kids are usually out first, early in the afternoon so that they can be safely out of the way when it is the adult’s turn. A lot of kids work hard for this and their reward is to watch their parents take part in the big omikoshi parades and of course to play and eat at the festival market stands. In the second photo two young ones walk past a pop gun stand. Police block most of the roads leading up to the shrine on festival days, doing their part in handing the neighborhood back to the control of the community. The one weekend where people are more important than cars. I wish every day could be festival day!
One of the first orders of the day on any matsuri or festival day is to make sure the kids are doing their part for the communtiy and the local gods! Most festivals have special teams of volunteers gather up the local children and have them carry the kid sized omikoshi or portable shrines around the area. This way the kids can learn about the community and the rituals and traditions that binds it together while learning the dress, the different jobs and how to work together to carry the heavy omikoshi succesfully on their shoulders. Being kids though, it is hard to keep from getting distracted once you pass the colorful street vendors, the yatai, selling food, candy, drink, toy and offering games! All of these kids did great and none broke rank! The head of the neighborhood committee usually keeps the costumes and uniforms prepared for when they are needed and pass them out to kids taking part, some of the coats are older than others and you sometimes see quite a variety in styles and colors, but usually all with the same traditional neighborhood marks: the older the neighborhood, the longer the traditions! If you visit a festival in Japan and want to see the kid’s omikoshi it is usually best to be out early, as the kids rituals are usually performed well before it is time for the adult to come out and play! It is always fun to take these kind of photos, the kids are all adorable!
Last weekend was mini Awaodori heaven for us who have seen the light! There’s basically three events that can’t be missed on the Awaodori calendar, the main event in Tokushima, the two day massive festival in Koenji (both in August) and this one, the last weekend of July when the whole of the Kanto region goes Awaodori crazy. There were festivals all from Kanagawa to Chiba with Awaodori performances, with several going on in greater Tokyo at the same time. Too bad you can only be at one place at a time! So I spent Friday at the parade in Kagurazaka (神楽坂), mainly because I wanted a chance to see two of my favorite teams perform at the same time but also because Kagurazaka has a really good mix of dedicated teams and beginners. One of the most famous teams at Kagurazaka must be the Tenguren (天狗連), using the mythical winged tengu demon/spirit as their symbol. Tenguren has a very cute and dedicated kids troupe called Kotengu (小天狗), or the mini-tengu. In a few years I hope to see these kids graduated and moved up to the regular Tenguren troupe! I love the way Japanese society works in which they send the youngest and most inexperienced members out first, to really boost their confidence and skill – not only in Awaodori but also in business! Often in large Japanese corporations you’ll meet very junior members participating in very large and important business projects.
Not only are these kotengu very cute, they also have these fantastic green and white costumes with what I call the rabbit ears headband! I am sure there is a proper name for this style of headband. Enjoy!
Last weekend Shinjuku saw the annual Hanazono Shrine festival, the Hanazono Retaisai (花園神社例大祭 in Japanese). Most shrines have several festivals or matsuri doing the year, but the one to look out for is the reisai or reitaisai, which is a name give to the most important festival of the year for the shrine in question. As with all reitaisai, the different neighborhoods belonging to the shrine did their part and fielded huge teams of omikoshi bearers, standard bearers and musicians. I got a little late to the festival’s last day, but I managed to catch the Sankouchou (三光町) team as they finished their rounds, on the small back street between the shrine and the fantastic little area knowns as Golden Gai. Sankouchou is the old name (pre-1970s) for what is today, mostly Kabukichou Ichoume (歌舞伎町一丁目) and a handful of other locations around that area. Most interestingly, it includes Golden Gai and a large part of one of Asia’s largest red light districts, Kabukichou. Like churches and parishes in Christian countries, the old parish boundaries are still usually in use when it comes to festivals and traditions, which is also true in Japan. The address you live in decides which “parish” shrine you belong to, and you should look it up. It is not always the biggest or the closest shrine to your house.
The Hanazono shrine is the main shrine of the area to the east of Shinjuku station and therefore one of the most important shrines in Tokyo! The festival is a huge three day event and the last day saw a lot of streets being closed of for traffic to accommodate the omikoshi and the crowds. Great fun and definitely one of the most accessible shrine festivals in Japan. It’s a family thing with lot of people from all ages and all walks of life, from the underworld to the highest ranking politicians, and at the end, some really tired children. Enjoy!