Two weekends ago I visited the annual Ikebukuro Matsuri, which is the biggest festival in Toshima Ward, one of the biggest of the 23 central Tokyo special wards. At one time Ikebukuro was famous for being the spot in the world with more square feet department store than anywhere else, but the recent death of department stores have lead to there being of these. The number of visitors to the festival keeps increasing however, with this year’s festival the busiest ever. I arrived very late to the West exit area of Ikebukuro but saw my favorite omikoshi in Tokyo – the death defying balls of steel no fear omikoshi (as I call it). They stop regularly on their route and tip the omikoshi violently and rapidly back and forth, urging each other to go deeper and deeper. I can not imagine anything that would bring me more mortal fear than being underneath this omikoshi as it tips over, a ton of wood and steel being inches from crushing you stopped at the last moment by tired, sweaty, possibly drunk, neighbors and friends. Still, it is utterly fascinating to watch. Like bungee jumping, but the other way around.
Ikebukuro is famous for being far more rough and tumble than the rest of Tokyo so it is only natural that their festivals take on a slightly wilder nature!
Although the many omikoshi is the main draw of the festival (there are dozens) a lot of people come for the music performances, food stalls, Okinawan dance troupes and taiko drummers. It is an interesting festival to watch!
If you are in north-eastern Shizuoka prefecture this Sunday you might be interested in visiting the tiny but fun Yoshiwara Shukuba Matsuri, with small performances of many different kinds of entertainments and local youth. The biggest attraction would be for fans of one of the world’s youngest traditional dances, the Yosakoi. This little festival gathers several Yosakoi teams and the wide streets makes for an unusually un-crowded viewing. I took these photos at last’s years festival, and you can find more photos from another event at the same spot here.
The festival takes place in Shizuoka Prefecture’s third largest city, Fuji, in the Yoshiwara district. It is pretty easy to reach by local train or Shinkansen and when I was there last year there was even plenty of parking available.
Although the big awaodori festival season here in Tokyo is over there are still a few festivals outside of Tokyo, like last Saturday’s Kawasaki Awaodori in neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture. I arrived very late but managed to enjoy about half of the teams. Either I was lucky or the festival management has really managed to get a lot of good teams together. The quality was quite high and unlike most Awaodori festivals where the parade is the main even the festival in Kawasaki as all about each team’s set piece performance. The biggest new discovery of this year’s festival was the Nansuiren, a very small team that only started in 2009 in neighboring Machida City, which is part of Tokyo. The team has a good homepage here, and has even put up an mp3 recording of the classical music piece around which all awaodori centers. I recommend listening to it or downloading it! This is one team I will definitively be keeping an eye out for!