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!
Sometimes you are just lucky here in Tokyo. On Sunday I was walking through the neighborhood of Yushima right on the edge of Bunkyo ward, next to Ueno. I wasn’t expecting to walk into a festival complete with omikoshi and men and women dressed in white hatten coats. These festivals are very rare in the winter, especially in February and March but it seems that the flowering of the plum trees are a big deal here at the famous Yushima Tenjin shrine. The weather was quite bad, with a cold rain and a massive overcast sky. It was colder than usual even for the season but the locals did a good job in carrying their omikoshi around the streets bordering the shrine.
The area of Yushima is one of the oldest in Tokyo. In the old days you could see the sea from the high ground of Yushima, and arriving on boats it looked like a small island which explains part of its name, shima (island). Today the area is part of Bunkyo Ward but between 1887 and 1947 it was the center of the old Hongo Ward, when Tokyo was still known as Tokyo City (東京市) unlike today’s official designation as Tokyo Metropolis (東京都) and consisted of 35 wards compared to today’s 23 special wards.
I’ll post more photos of this rare early March festival, so stay tuned!
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!