Two weekends ago I visited the annual Ikebukuro Matsuri, which is the biggest festival in Toshima Ward, one of the biggest of the 23 central Tokyo special wards. At one time Ikebukuro was famous for being the spot in the world with more square feet department store than anywhere else, but the recent death of department stores have lead to there being of these. The number of visitors to the festival keeps increasing however, with this year’s festival the busiest ever. I arrived very late to the West exit area of Ikebukuro but saw my favorite omikoshi in Tokyo – the death defying balls of steel no fear omikoshi (as I call it). They stop regularly on their route and tip the omikoshi violently and rapidly back and forth, urging each other to go deeper and deeper. I can not imagine anything that would bring me more mortal fear than being underneath this omikoshi as it tips over, a ton of wood and steel being inches from crushing you stopped at the last moment by tired, sweaty, possibly drunk, neighbors and friends. Still, it is utterly fascinating to watch. Like bungee jumping, but the other way around.
Ikebukuro is famous for being far more rough and tumble than the rest of Tokyo so it is only natural that their festivals take on a slightly wilder nature!
Although the many omikoshi is the main draw of the festival (there are dozens) a lot of people come for the music performances, food stalls, Okinawan dance troupes and taiko drummers. It is an interesting festival to watch!
It is Monday afternoon here in Tokyo and people are getting ready for the big typhoon heading towards the city. The rains have started and as I am writing this the typhoon has made landfall in Kouchi Prefecture on Shikoku Island.
All this weather is keeping me holed up at home and has me thinking of water, so here are some photos from one of my favorite major festivals of the city, the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri in Tokyo’s Monzennakacho district. During this festival which attracts thousands locals and tourists local shops and even fire fighting teams prepare water, buckets and hoses to do their best to soak the revelers in water.
One thing you will almost always find at a traditional Japanese festival is the taiko troupe. Taiko drummers are used at most festivals to entertain or cheer the omikoshi carriers on. Sometimes at the shrine itself, near it, or somewhere along the route. I once visited a festival where they used the taiko drummers to calm the excited omikoshi crews down a little bit. Here at the Yoyogi Hachimangu festival which took place last week in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward there was a short performance to mark the half time of the omikoshi circuit around the parish. Taiko drummers are impossible to record correctly, the only way to experience it is to actually be there, and feel the drums in your body!
Last weeks saw the annual festival of the Yoyogi Hachimangu, a grand shrine located very scenically on top of a hill in Northern Shibuya Ward. Thanks to the good weather there were lot of people out and about in the area and up around the shrine it was standing room only, just as usual. I missed the Awaodori parade up to the main shrine building but instead I spent a bit more time with the omikoshi as they moved around the shrine. I have a lot of respect for the people who carry these, it is easily the most physically intense activity I have ever tried. It might look easy but it sure isn’t! My favorite guy was the man with the glasses who took turns carrying the omikoshi and manhandling the drums. His drumming skills were top notch and provided great entertainment to the crowd of people who followed him. If you visit Japan you need to make sure you see this at least once!