During the middle of the reign of Emperor Horikawa (the year 1092) to be exact, a shrine named Konnouhachimangu was founded in Shibuya, in what was then marsh lands and valleys tended by rice farmers in what would hundreds of years later become Tokyo. A couple of weeks ago, at the very same shrine although probably not the original wooden structure, the shrine organized, just for fun, a karaoke concert. Who said Japanese traditions aren’t keeping pace with modern times? Anyone could volunteer to perform and there was a long line of people eager to show of their skills. I took these photos just as a young woman performed the only English song of the evening, I think it was James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful”, and she did it beautifully to much applause. The man next in line performed a classic Okinawan folk song that had everyone in the audience singing along! I absolutely love these random events and happenings that you run into living here in Tokyo. Who knew a shrine would have a karaoke concert?
I know it’s still a couple of months left to go but I wanted to give you a heads up for the huge Shibuya Festival in September every year. These are some snapshots I took of the women’s only omikoshi team, a rarity in most festivals! Traditionally women were not allowed to carry the omikoshi around during festivals, but it’s becoming more and more common to see them mixed in with the men, or as in this case with an omikoshi of their own. The poor girl who had hurt her foot had to stand back for this one! I am always impressed with the people who carries these, it’s absolutely not an easy task! If you’re in Tokyo in September, this might be the one festival to catch! These photos have sat on one of my old hard drives and I just had an hour to go over them. The festival in 2011 was fantastic, as it was a coincidence of three jubilees, the 920, the 870 and the 400 all related to Shibuya’s main shrine, the Konnou Hachimangu (金王八幡宮).
Today I visited a birthday party, the 920th year of Shibuya’s Kanno-Hachiman Shrine (金王八幡宮)! Today 920 years ago a shrine was built to worship a God from the oldest parts of Japanese mythology and today it’s nestled-in between sky scrapers, offices and streets dedicated to modern entertainment. I chanced upon it while taking a short cut from Roppongi to Shibuya and although I must have walked within fifty meters of it hundreds of times I never saw it until today. The celebrations coincided with the huge Shibuya festival and although the sun was beating down on us several scores of celebrants had already left after taking part in the cleansing rituals at the shrine. In English we simply call this a shrine, but there are subtle differences between the basic four (well, five really) types of shrines, and this is a “hachimangu” (八幡宮), which, roughly speaking is the middle type of shrine. It’s different from the regular shrines in that it houses or worships named Gods from the earliest Japanese mythology instead of local animistic spirits. But please don’t quote me on this. The Japanese shrine systems are extremely complicated and 99.9% of all Japanese haven’t got a clue as to the difference between various shrines and how they operate, so I have no one to ask and I can’t read a tenth of all the really obscure vocabulary that shows up in Japanese religious texts. I am sure there are readers of this blog who knows more about this than I do.
If you travel around Japan you’re bound to run into a hachimangu every now and then, so just remember that they are step above the local shrines and often have some specific mythology attached to it. Also, usually, they are much much older, and even at 920 years old this shrine is one of the younger hachimangu around.