If you are in Tokyo this weekend and not interested in the massive Kawagoe festival taking place in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo I recommend visiting the far smaller but almost as crowded Oeshiki ceremony at Kishibojin in Zoshigaya, a 10 minute walk south of Ikebukuro station. Kishibojin temple is one of those religious mysteries of which there are so many in Japan. Even the name is unclear as it changes from different maps and signs, and it is a hybrid Shrine/Temple celebrating Oeshiki which is a distinctly buddhist ceremony a week later than all the other Oeshiki ceremonies, it is officially called a shrine but it has no torii gate but a small Inarijinja. I have visited dozens of times but I still haven’t unravelled this one. More studies needed!
Yesterday when I took these photos was the first evening of the three night event. Tonight and tomorrow will be much bigger with thousands of people taking part and as many onlookers crowding the narrow streets leading up to Kishibojin temple. Like at the Oeshiki in the main Nichiren temple in Ikegami last week, there are lots of matoi dancers as well as the larger mando. It is considered good luck to touch one of the white paper flowers and you can even buy them to decorate your home altar at a small stand inside the temple, but unlike the main ceremony in Ikegami touching them is not encouraged and I have never seen anyone doing it, so it is probably better to ask before reaching out and getting some of that good luck!
Photographing this even it extremely difficult, fast moving, dark and quite introverted this is not a photogenic festival despite all the fantastic things going on! Also, if you are into amezaiku the man at Zoshigaya this weekend is really talented. Also, while visiting the festival you can check out what is probably the oldest kiosk in continuous operation in the world, having started in 1781!
Like last year I went to the Nezu Shrine festival, but this time my main goal was to watch the fantastic performance by the Nezu Gongendaiko (根津権現太鼓) taiko drum group. Unfortunately rains kept them from performing for a while so they only gave a short version of their regular performance but it was still great. Taiko drumming is essentially a group effort. Team play is hugely important and also much more interesting to watch. It takes a huge amount of training to become as good as this group, but most schools have taiko groups so there are a lot of people with the potential to move forward. Taiko drumming is also very open to change. Many free groups are experimenting with the style and you never quite know what to expect when watching a performance. The future looks very bright for Taiko drumming!
The Nezu Shrine on the edge of Bunkyo Ward but very close to the neighboring Taito Ward in the old heart of Tokyo is a great setting for a summer festival. The shrine buildings are interesting enough but there’s also plenty of topography, a bridge and a few ponds. One of my favorite shrines in Tokyo the festival is also one of my favorites. I hardly had time to visit this year so I just came for one of the taiko performances but since it was delayed due to the sudden rain (taiko drums and rain does not go well together) I had time to aim my camera at other things for a few minutes. I’ll post images from the taiko performance later!
Nezu Shrine is easy to access from Nezu or Sendagi stations on the Chiyoda subway line, or you can use the Todaimae station on the Namboku line. If you want to do some sight seeing I can really recommend the nice and quiet little neighborhood to the east of the shrine down to the famous Ueno park and the nearby Ueno station. A longer but interesting walk.
It is always a challenge to photography evening time festivals in Japan but one of the most challenging is the Kagurazaka Festival at the Akagi Shrine which is really very dark. It is so dark that one of the local omikoshi has been fitted with LED lights to great effect. It looks fantastic when it goes down the stairs all lit up from inside, surging through the sea of people gathered to enjoy the festival. Still the locals of Kagurazaka are quite in love with their festival and I often see omikoshi-surfers, usually young women or children riding the omikoshi and cheering everyone up. Obviously I have never done it myself but it must be very difficult. This little boy I saw on the first night of the festival when I was just passing through was a true champ of the game! He has one foot each on the two main logs and nothing but the sole of his slippers to keep him from falling off. Small children usually sit down which is probably safer. It must be such a thrill though!