At last weeks budo tournament in Tokyo’s Meijijingu grand shrine I saw this procession of archers making their way from the shrine ceremony to the archery, kyudo, range or dojo. There had been a big tournament and hundreds of archers had been ranked and tested. Unfortunately as much as I wanted I wasn’t able to gain access to the archery range itself. Maybe next year! They are wearing ceremonial clothes and carrying shrine ornaments and holy bows. Of course I couldn’t help myself from taking snapping a photo of a little boy eager to test his running skills next to the procession. Don’t worry, his mother was right behind him!
Many festivals in Japan feature the huge wheeled shrine platforms called dashi (山車) that often carry dancers and musicians. Some of these have engines, others rely on manpower and others a combination. Some are so large that they have to be lifted up and rotated because they can’t turn! On the first day of the Akasaka Hikawa Shrine festival a week ago they only had the one dashi out, but it’s a beauty. It is always so fun to see these very traditional handmade wagons being pulled around a modern city center, full of glass, concrete and neon signs. Very few people still live in these commercial districts so the omikoshi teams usually rely on staff from local companies and shops and even night clubs to help out, which makes for a friendly bunch of fun loving people, as you can see in some of these photos.
Still the festival season isn’t over, although it is drawing towards a close as the weekends see fewer and fewer festivals. Better enojy it while it lasts!
I hope you are not getting tired of festival photos! It is the festival season and I spend most of my free time following the festivals around Tokyo. Here are some more photos from the festival at Akasaka’s grand Hikawa shrine. The procession has moved down to just in front of Akasaka Mitsuke station, and there it lines up, reforms and get ready for a return journey up the slope to Akasaka station, in front of Akasaka Sakasu. The lantern bearers and officials get a chance to drink something as cans of soda and tea are passed around. I usually drink about a liter of fluids during a couple of hours of just shooting these processions, I can only imagine how parched the people taking part must be!
For some reason this is the part of the festivals that I like best. The quiet moment just before the action starts, the rest and the readiness. When everyone is waiting for the signal to go, no one in the procession (or even the policemen) knowing any more than their own limited part, everyone trusting and waiting for someone to give the go ahead. It takes a lot of energy to control a “machine” like this, to keep it on its toes ready to start. Once the procession starts going it follows a logic of its own and the people involved perform their part. So my favorite photo this time is the fourth from the bottom. Just minutes before starting. In the last two photos you can see concrete pillars sticking up from the ground, I am standing on one of these as I take the photos. I usually don’t like taking photos from above, but sometimes it is fun to do something from an inconvenient angle. I generally have a very bad sense of balance but for some reason got up on these tiny rounded pillars no problem at all.
In the third to last photo you can see the different lanterns held up in the procession, each is decorated with the name of the neighborhood it belongs to, showing that they take part in the festival. It is an honor to get to carry one of these! More photos to come!
Last night was the first of the three days of the large Hikawajinja Matsuri, or festival, in Tokyo’s posh downtown Akasaka district. On the first night there is only one omikoshi preceded by only one dashi, large wooden wagon ceremonial platforms. These dashi are supremely heavy and it takes a lot of people to maneuver them and pull them even on level ground. In Akasaka there are a few steeper streets where the wagon has to be let down very gently not to careen down the street out of control! Indeed even the name Akasaka means red-slope! I wonder if the slopes of Akasaka has influenced the route the of the festival procession? The dashi is controlled by two ropes and the way they are pulled influences the way the wagon moves. Not an easy task (as you can see in the last photo)! More photos from this festival to come!