If you are in Tokyo today I can recommend a visit to the huge Sensoji temple in Asakusa to see the rather unique and beautiful white egret dancers – Shirasaginomai (白鷺の舞). Local children together with musicians and performers from the large Yasaka shrine in Kyoto perform in the ceremony that was only revived in 1968 using an old scroll from 1652 as basis for the dance itself.
There were plenty of New Year’s parties and celebrations going on in Tokyo as the clock struck twelve, but the activity that drags most people out on the cold streets are the traditional shrine or temple visits of the new year! The tradition is called Hatsumode and I have been an avid fan since my first New Year’s in Japan, many years ago. Most people visit shrines but some people make a point of going to a temple instead, but in some places like Asakusa, you can visit both a temple and a shrine at almost the same time! I took these photos a few minutes before midnight, as I was in a hurry to visit a string of smaller and more familiar shrines in the area. There were already thousands of people lined up and there were squads of police all over the area to make sure the greeting of the new year went smoothly. Recently younger people have started meeting in the big Shibuya street crossing at midnight, much to the consternation of the local traffic police. Myself I prefer the more traditional new year’s celebrations, of shrines, charms, prayers and the good smell of the bonfires!
Asakusa is rapidly becoming the major sight seeing spot for domestic and foreign tourists alike, ever since the area was upgraded and the new lighting scheme of the temple and shrine buildings turned the entire area fashionably gorgeous. More photos of the celebrations to come!
If I have to rank the many tourist destinations in Tokyo and give you the place that should be on the top list of any tourist with the ambition to see Tokyo, it is easily the Asakusa district. I have blogged about this part of the city and the fantastically colorful Sensoji (Tokyo’s first and grandest temple) many times before but I just can’t help myself from pulling up the camera whenever I pass. Everytime I visit I have the ambition to find the odd little spots I have missed earlier, to go for details rather than large open views but I always get blown away by the colors and size of everything. Asakusa is easily the second greatest city attraction (ok, technically the greatest but Gion in Kyoto still wins for pure charm, beauty and dignity) in Japan. You can make several little trips (the place changes atmosphere and color so much during the day) or spend an entire day here from morning to midnight. Luckily most of Tokyo’s backpacker hostels are in the area. Use the tags at the bottom of the post to find more posts about Asakusa!
The many gates of the temple are fantastically photogenic, and the nearby bridge over Sumida river tends to be a popular photo spot with tourists and locals. One local lady even decided to climb the bridge pillars to get a better view! Next to the famous Kaminarimon you’ll also find the number one souvenir associated with the gate: Kaminariokoshi. In the last photo you’ll see a couple checking out the shop just before closing one evening a few weeks ago.
Last night was the annual Tourounagashi (灯篭流し) ceremony at the huge Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. It takes place during Obon, which is the traditional time for Japanese people to tend their ancestral graves, remember the relatives who came before them and pray and give offerings to their ancestors. At the temple, the Tourounagashi ceremony is part of that tradition and buddhist monks chant over the ceremony as lay people let painted paper lanterns slide into Sumida river, carrying prayers for peace and rest for their deceased loved ones. Even deceased pets can be honored in this way. The ceremony in Tokyo is not very big, the more famous ones are held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as Obon coincides with the a-bomb remembrances over there. Other famous ones are held in Fukui, Kyoto, Niigata and Yokohama.
Not to worry about pollution and littering, this being Japan all the lanterns are collected as the are carried by the wind along the river by volunteer boat teams making sure not to add to the trash in the river. Speaking of trash, in the years I have lived in Tokyo the river has actually become markedly cleaner. I see less garbage and more birds in the river than before.
The quay from which the lanterns were launched were packed with people so I had to be content with staying up on the embankment. Maybe next time I’ll join the people offering lanterns and prayers.
As a bonus, one photo of the always magnificent Kaminariom, the huge paper lantern under the gate leading to Sensoji temple. Enjoy!