Tokyobling's Blog

Group Photo – Firefighting Team in Asakusa

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 3, 2014

After the big firefighter’s memorial service and exhibition is over, there remains one thing to do, the group photo! One of the teams took a prime photos spot just beneath the western exit of the huge Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district where a professional photographer was waiting with some very heavy duty camera equipment. I wonder if the tourists idling at the top of the stairs realize that they will probably be in a photo that will be hanging in this firefighter team club house long past the 24th century? This team has been around since the early 18th century and will most likely be around for at least as long as that again.

Allow me to go a little philosophic here: surely, isn’t one of the reasons of life, of our short existence on this planet, to be able to feel that we are part of something greater? One link in a chain stretching centuries behind us, and hopefully centuries ahead of us.

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Hashigonoriengi – Ladder Acrobatics in Asakusa

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 31, 2014

My favorite part of the annual firefighter’s memorial service in Asakusa’s Sensoji temple is the hashigonoriengi, or ladder acrobatics. The firefighters, which were originally often recruited from lower ranking samurai had to be skilled in climbing the handmade bamboo ladders, and these acrobatics were developed as way to let them develop their skills while showing off their fearless attitude and bravery.

There are quite a few different positions, while all are dangerous some of them are so dangerous that even imagining performing them makes my spine chill. Still, the firefighters make it all look easy. When it rains the ladders get quite slippery but on this ceremony the weather held and we were treated to all the best positions!

Quite by chance I found this Youtube video of some darling genius who made a story book tale of a bunch of bears starting their own hashigonoriengi group, from studying with tiny textbooks to actually performing at a little shrine! More photos from this annual ceremony to come though.

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Asakusa Firefighters – Ceremony

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 29, 2014

Every year behind the grand Sensoji temple in Asakusa the firefighter’s associations of Japan gather to hold a ceremony to commemorate the ones who have fallen. During the ceremony, representatives from the 88 different traditional groups perform ladder acrobatics and their famous matoi dances, a recurring motif in art and dolls in Japanese culture. About 1000 people participate in the ceremony which is held on the last Sunday of May. I blogged quite a lot about this last year so please go read last year’s post if you are interested in learning more!

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am completely in love with these ladder acrobatics and the imagery associated with traditional Japanese firefighters, so please excuse me for indulging in yet a few more matori-heavy posts!

The ceremony itself, despite being fantastically entertaining, free and quite photogenic, is almost completely unknown to the general public and most of the regular people who turn up to watch are tourists to the temple who just happened to wander past. If you are in Tokyo in late May you really should come and see this!

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Last Day of Sanja Matsuri – Asakusa

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 20, 2014

The last day of the massive Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo’s Asakusa district is when they bring out the big three omikoshi of the shrine itself. The different neighborhood groups take turns handling them and competition for the best spots get quite fierce. I am always surprised there aren’t more injuries when I see these portable shrines coming down the streets.

The original four omikoshi, dating back to the early 17th century were lost in the firebombings of the war, but three of them has since been replaced by more modern omikoshi about 60 years ago. The fourth omikoshi still hasn’t been replaced, and maybe it never will. This omikoshi is exactly 1000kg heavy but the others are slightly heavier still.

The police did their best in protecting both participants and tourists, but sometimes they were too busy saving themselves. Even viewed from a distance the ceremony is exciting as you are never quite sure where the omikoshi is heading. I am already looking forward to next year’s big festival!

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