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!
A couple of weekends ago I visited the famous Yushima Tenjin (湯島天神) and the grand festival held there annually. There were quite a few local children attending the festival, not surprising since Yushima Tenjin is a shrine dedicated to the Japanese God of learning. I heard one neighborhood chief joke to a group of parents that surely all their children must be admitted to the prestigious Tokyo University after having done so well with the miniature portable shrines! Of course he was joking but it was great fun to follow the festival and to see all the children having a great time in this matsuri (festival). More photos of the festival 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!