Tokyobling's Blog

Kagurazaka Awaodori – Tonight

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on July 26, 2014

Last night saw the start of the fantastic Kagurazaka Awaodori Festival, the third day in four day Kagurazaka Matsuri. The last day is tonight with the kid’s teams performing from 1800 to 1900 and then the adult’s teams from 1900 to 2100. You can get to Kagurazaka from either Iidabashi station, Ushigome Kagurazaka or Kagurazaka stations. The further up you go on the street the fewer people you are likely to have to fight for a good spot with, so if it seems to crowded down hill just keep walking to the second area of the festival!

Last night I took these photos of the always fantastic Tenguren and their little Kotenguren kids. I can’t get enough of this team! Even though Awaodori dance is traditionally from Tokushima Prefecture there are dozens of great teams here in Tokyo!

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Hanazono Shrine Festival – Shinjuku

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 25, 2014

One of the many festivals taking place this weekend is the grand Hanazono Shrine festival deep in the heart of Shinjuku! This year is the grand festival taking place every other year, where the big shrine omikoshi gets take out on a tour of the parish. I visited early on the second day of the three day festival and from the looks of it it must have been a wild first night! The second day is quite quiet, as the big celebrations are today, on the Sunday.

Hanazono Shrine is quite well hidden to the west of Kabukicho but with all the market stalls and the smell of food it should be easier to find this weekend! It is famous for being the shrine to go to if you want success in the entertainment industry and many famous singers and actors go there to pay their respects, both before and after their careers take off.

If you are free today I recommend visiting this great festival in Tokyo’s capital City, Shinjuku!

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Ichigayakameokahachimangu – Ichigaya Shrine

Posted in Places by tokyobling on April 21, 2014

If you are in the market to visit minor shrines and temple while visiting Tokyo I can recommend trying to find the Ichigayakameokahachimangu (市谷亀岡八幡宮) near Ichigaya Station in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. This shrine was established as one of the guardian shrines of the Tokyo castle in 1479 and move to its present location outside the moat in 1636 after the moat had been completed. Like most buildings in Tokyo the shrine itself was destroyed in the air raids of May 25th, 1945, but it was rebuilt in 1962. On the shrine grounds you will also find the smaller but more popular Chanokiinarijinja (茶ノ木稲荷神社), that is renowned for being the place to go if you are suffering from eye diseases. It also seems to be a very popular shrine with pet owners who often come here to pray for the health or souls of their pets. There are monthly rituals where you can bring you pet to have it blessed by one of the priests. You would not know from the location but all the building behind and to the left belongs to the Japanese ministry of defense, making it one of the best protected shrines in the country. The shrine’s official festival seems to be in September every year but I have never seen it myself!

I visited a few days before the sakura but the shrine grounds looked much better after they were in full bloom. The shrine’s official site is here and they have a Facebook page here.

The last image is not one of mine, but a print from the hands of the famous Utagawa Hiroshige, showing what the shrine looked like in 1858.

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More Shinjuku Golden Gai

Posted in Places by tokyobling on March 18, 2014

In yesterday’s post I promised to tell a little bit more about the history of Shinjuku’s famous Golden Gai (新宿ゴールデン街). On August the 15th 1945 a black market was opened on the firebombed fields east of Shinjuku train station. The organizers were a quick to take advantage of a the chaos of war and the lack of civil jurisdiction in the midst of the hand over from a wartime government to the incoming occupational forces of the Allied Countries under General McArthur. Food, clothes and goods were all heavily rationed by the government and the only way for some people to survive was to rely on these unregulated black markets. The market was located in the spot where the Zara main store in Shinjuku is these days, about 100 meters to the east of Shinjuku station. In 1949 the GHQ (the military occupational government) ordered all the black markets away from the major stations and the gangsters who ran the “Shinjuku Market” had to move a few hundred meters to the old town of Sankochou (三光町) that lay just to the east of the old Street Car Train line. The town had been almost completely destroyed in the firebombings a few years earlier and there was noone around to enforce building regulations, zoning laws or even to draw up proper streets. The black market quickly morphed into a series of stalls serving food and drink. One of the few remaining pre-war streets in this area is the tree lined alley that you could see in the first photo of yesterday’s post, it used to be where the train line ran.

The police and the military drew a red line on the maps around the areas where they would not tolerate black markets and so the area of what would become Golden Gai became known as a “red line area”. The market and food stalls changed into a red light district and brothels sprung up and prospered, not least because of the close proximity to the large U.S. Air Force barracks in what is now nearby Yoyogi Park. Still the area could not be regulated and people had taken it into their own hands to build rows of narrow houses. In 1958 police added a second line to their maps, a blue line within which prostitution would not be tolerated and so the nature of Golden Gai changed again, and the present day area was finally formed as a place of bars, drinking and loud music but absolutely no prostitution. The name Golden Gai was set in 1960.

Today there are two merchants associations in the Golden Gai. The North consists mainly of bars that are 2.5 meters times 2.5 meters. The south association consists mostly of even smaller bars that are no wider or longer than 1.7 meters! There is a long waiting list to be allowed to operate any of the bars here and every year between 5 and 10 bars close and new ones take their place. The oldest bars have been in the owner’s family for at least three generations! Legally Golden Gai is not quite a autonomous free town, but it is pretty close to being independent. Naturally, this legal limbo is not very popular with city officials and the last few years the Tokyo Mayor has been very outspoken in his dislike of the area. Right now there are not unfounded fears that the city government will order a crackdown on Golden Gai to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Naturally it would be a massive loss to Tokyo and to the world if Golden Gai were to be abolished. I sincerely hope that no Tokyo politician will be so foolish as to destroy this fantastic piece of Tokyo living history.

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