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!
Ichougaokahachimanjinja (銀杏岡八幡神社), quite a mouthful of a name for this little shrine in Tokyo’s Asakusabashi district! I’ve walked past the shrine’s entrance dozens of times but never entered until this morning, which happened to be just as they were starting up the first day of their big annual festival! Ichougaoka means “Gingko Hill”, as in the tree Gingko Bilboa, whose distinctive leaves are on the shrines ema and other decorations. And speaking of ema, one of these votive prayer tablets had a very detailed description of one young man’s ambitions. I took these photos before the crowds of locals and tourists had arrived and the stall holders were mostly waiting for the their customers. The shrine put on quite a good show with live festival music throughout the day, culminating in a cool taiko drum performance before ending in a karaoke contest with local hopeful singers being cheered on by a full crowd in the unseasonably chilly evening. Asakusabashi has several shrines and temples, more photos to come!
Being a very local festival means that you have to make the most of all the resources you’ve got. At the Onoterusaki Shrine festival last weekend local school kids manned the festival wagon, the dashi, to make sure the adults had the proper music for when they carried their omikoshi around the neighborhood. There were a whole bunch of kids piled into the little dashi and several others walked next to it for their turn at the drums. An adult drum leader and flute leader took turns leading the kids and making sure they didn’t stray too far from the traditional festival melodies that have stayed the same for centuries, maybe even millennia. When these kids grow up and have children of their own they’ll do the same I think.
The music in these festivals are very catchy, and once I hear one loop of the flute the melody tends to get stuck in my head for days afterwards. After visiting a few dozens of festivals you start picking up on the subtle differences in tone and melody. The two that I can never get out of my head so far is one particular bugle call from the Hamamatsu festival in Shizuoka and a buddhist flute melody from the Ikegami Oeshiki here in Tokyo.