Tokyobling's Blog

Konnohachimangu – Shibuya Matsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on September 17, 2014

Sunday was the main day of the large Konnohachimangu festival, or the Shibuya festival. Lots of omikoshi (not as old as the one I blogged about yesterday) gathered for the main blessing ceremony right in front of the famous 109 department store just a stone’s throw from the even more famous Shibuya Scramble street crossing (arguably the center of Japan today). The streets were packed with the many different neighborhood omikoshi, and even though Shibuya is hardly a residential area these days there were plenty of volunteers from outside of the area as well. Although the main ceremony was over in a few minutes the omikoshi teams kept going for hours afterwards, all around Shibuya!

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Hikawa Shrine Festival – Akasaka

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on September 13, 2014

There are a lot of festivals going on in Tokyo this weekend, the biggest probably being the one in Shibuya that I posted yesterday, but not far behind is the Hikawa Shrine Matsuri in Tokyo’s central Akasaka (not to be confused with the very similar sounding place name Asakusa). This festival kicked off on Friday evening but I didn’t have time to visit so here are a few photos from my visit to this festival back in 2012, a couple of years ago. I have been to this festival many times and it is always fun, especially to see the large dashi, the mobile shrine platforms as they are pulled and pushed and dragged all around the narrow streets and hills of Akasaka (赤坂, even the name means Red Hill). There are two different dashi and they are used on different days, so depending on when you see them you are bound to see a different one. Dashi connoisseurs (yes there are such people!) can easily tell the difference, but less learned people like me have a bit of a hard time.

A good friend that I met by chance at a festival last weekend let me in on how omikoshi (the mobile shrines carried by parishioners around the neighborhood) are judged in action! I can’t believe I hadn’t gotten this earlier, but apparently people in the know look at the four tassels hanging around the edges of most omikoshi (the ones in this festival are blueish purple): if the tassels swing wildly in rhythm, it means that the omikoshi is moving with cheer and purpose, if they hang straight or just sort of rattle around it means the carriers are running low on energy and the proper spirit. The best way to get the tassels swinging is to cheer the carriers on which usually spurs everyone into action!

If you have time and the opportunity, don’t miss this or any of the many other big festivals this weekend!

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Onnamikoshi – Kitazawahachiman Matsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on September 9, 2014

I spent last weekend in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward and the Shimokitazawa district to enjoy and take part in the grand Kitazawahachiman Matsuri, an autumn festival for all the neighborhoods in the parish. One of the highlights of the festival is always the moment when all the neighborhood omikoshi (portable shrines carrying the kami, or god-spirit), gather at the shrine to pay their respects. One neighborhood fields two different omikoshi, one regular for the neighborhood and one unusual Onnamikoshi, or an omikoshi only for women! For natural reasons these are very popular but few neighborhoods have the resources to field two omikoshi, so they either limit the regular omikoshi to men or mix it up both for men and women. Carrying an omikoshi is definitively a team effort, but the things that make some members of the team strong independently makes them weaker in the team, and the omikoshi often serves as a subtle reminder of this.

The Kitazawahachimangu (北澤八幡宮) is located on the top of a hill and the omikoshi has to be carried up some quite steep stairs. Usually the neighborhoods have one or more (sometimes dozens) of lantern carriers, usually the young women of the neighborhood, after which comes the omikoshi directed by the more experienced members of the group using fans and whistles to signal both visually and audibly to the people carrying the omikoshi. It is impossible for any one single person to direct the omikoshi and sometimes they get stuck, move in the wrong direction or lurch dangerously to the side despite the best effort or dozens of team members. It is a remarkable thing to watch!

Other shrines or festivals that are famous for having at least one onnamikoshi are the Yasukuni shrine and the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa. More photos from this fantastic festival to come!

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Tonight – Kitazawa Hachimangu Festival

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on September 6, 2014

This weekend it the big weekend of the year for the lovely Kitazawa Hachimangu in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. Two full days of omikoshi, festival food, lots of people and great traditional performances. Last year saw lots of rain but there were a few moments when the skies let up and the omikoshi, the portable shrines could do the traditional runs up and down the steep stairs in front of the shrine. These omikoshi are quite heavy and there is really no safe way to control them once they get started so it is usually best to stay well clear of them, as one of the members found out when he was getting to close to the railings and had to escape. Luckily no one was injured last year and I hope this year’s festival will be safe and fun! Here’s some of my photos from last year! Enjoy!

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