Although we had unseasonably bad weather in Tokyo over the spring, cold and often rainy, I did my best to capture the spirit of the annual hanami, the flower viewing parties where people go out en masse to enjoy food and drink under the canopies of the many colorful cherry trees all over Japan. Here are a few photos that I took for the French Special.T, as part of their marketing campaign for the new tea flavor, in Europe. I took these photos as the Shinjuku Gyoen, the gorgeous park in Shinjuku, and also in Yotsuya and Ichigaya, where in the last photo you can even see the Sobu line train making a guest appearance! A little late now that the rainy season is almost over, but better late than never!
The second batch of photos from the second day of the Hanazono Jinja festival in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Of the hundreds of festivals I have visited so far, this is the only one where I got so close to the action that I was actually manhandled by one of the festival guys and lifted out of the way, quite possibly for my own good – I am ready to do a lot to get “the photo”, but getting trampled by three ton of omikoshi and people is a little bit too much! Shinjuku festivals are always lively, and this is one of the best. If you missed this year’s festival you should def. not miss next year’s, as it is going to be about three times as lively and three times as packed with people enjoying themselves!
A couple of weeks ago I visited the biggest festival near Shinjuku station, at and around Hanazono Shrine near Kabukicho. This year’s festival was a “shadow” festival (kagematsuri, 陰祭り), so it wasn’t as lively as last year’s. Many shrines have “shadow” and “front” festivals, where the shrine’s own omikoshi comes out only on the “front” festival years. Usually this is once every two or three years. Some shrine festivals are never “shadow festivals”. These “Shadow” festivals usually finish earlier and are a little less rowdy, but unless you are a regular festival visitor you probably wouldn’t notice the difference. Here’s a first selection of the morning of the second day, as the shrine officials have a ceremony and get ready to bless the omikoshi before sending them on their way throughout the neighborhood!
In a few of the photos you can see the ritual clapping that is done to signal the start or end of the omikoshi . It is signaled by the leader of the group who gets upp in front of the omikoshi and claps with a pair of large wooden blocks. Immediately after he is done he is almost pulled down from the stand in order not to get crushed when the eager members rush to get the best places under the omikoshi. It looks almost comical when he is pulled down in the blink of an eye by the largest member of the group. The same ritual is repeated backwards when ending the omikoshi and every leader has his own way of clapping and signaling the end. Be too long about it and you’ll receive jeers, be too quick and people will jeer as well, it’s a difficult position but somebody must fill it! More photos to come!
Sometimes you just happen to be in the right place at the right time. I was near the eastern end of Shinjku in central Tokyo when a lot of smoke started drifting towards us. I took me awhile to figure out where the smoke was coming from and by the time I had gotten there the fire had already been raging for 40 minutes, it had taken me that long to reach it. It turned out that a wooden apartment building on a narrow backstreet had caught fire and while I was there it spread to two more buildings before being put out about three hours later. Luckily there were only two minor injuries and over a dozen fire trucks and dozens of auxiliary vehicles, ambulances, police cars and buses crowded the area. Japan really has some of the most amazing fire fighters I have ever seen, and not any less impressive where the dozens of volunteer firefighters taking care of less physically demanding but critical duties like crowd control, equipment deployments etc., many of them female and many near or over retirement age! As terrible as a home fire always is, I know it could have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the well trained professionals showing up to help.
I don’t know about you, but I think the first photo is the most beautiful I have ever taken, a young firefighter pausing for a split second to get his bearings while carrying oxygen tanks from the scene of the blaze to the safer staging area. I saw many of them carrying dozens of these heavy tanks to the smoke diving helmet equipped fire fighter working inside the buildings.