I took this photo of a shrine maiden on duty in Shibuya’s grand shrine, the Konouhachimangu (金王八幡宮) at the annual festival last year. Some of these shrine maidens, or mike (巫女) are full time employees of the shrine but the vast majority are temporarily employed part time workers. Most of them are high school students or university students doing it for the experience and for pocket money. Although most people are impressed by young women with miko work experience there are also other bonuses, such as learning about customer service and Japanese culture and traditions. I have also heard ex-miko who mention that their math skills improved as they learned to calculate quickly in the heads when working over the main holidays selling votive plates, charmes, etc. I also think it is impossible to find any service job in the world where the staff are treated with more respect than this! On the negative side, in the winters the thin uniform and the hours spent outside can make it an almost unbearable experience for many. Some miko are also quite tired of the often very repetitive work as well as tired of constantly being photographed. This last complaint hits hard with myself, especially!
For their stoic service and hard work in the cold of winter or heat of summer a typical part-time miko can expect to earn between 8000 and 12 000 yen per day, depending on age, experience and length of work. This is a typical part time salary here in Tokyo and higher than many full time positions out in the prefectures. Good work, if you are unmarried and reasonably stoic!
I took these photos after the rain we had during this year’s Shibuya festival let up. The omikoshi of the famous Dogenzaka neighborhood that traditionally starts in front of Shibuya station and goes up towards Shinsen station was out in force, the only concession to the rain being the plastic wrapped around the paper lanterns.
The origins of the name Dogenzaka is contested, but the slope can be named after an old temple that used to be located on the top of the hill. During the Edo period the road was surrounded by wild woods and fields with a clear view of Mount Fuji at the end. As Edo became Tokyo in the later part of the 19th century Dogenzaka became a market place for farmers selling their produce and Shibuya was developed as modern westernized town with electric street lights and everything. These days it is hard to believe that Dogenzaka was ever anything else than highly developed commercial district, but in fact there is a short row of five buildings that are almost 90 years old and survived several earthquakes and a World War. I will save that story for a later blog post though. There are a few interesting photos on this site of old historical Dogenzaka.
I was suprised to read that 758 people are officially registered as living in Dougenzaka, I think quite a good percentage of them joined in the Shibuya festival and helped carry their omikoshi, men, women and quite a lot of kids! They did a great job stopping the traffic while the omikoshi slowly passed.
Someday I would love to talk to someone who was born and lived all their life in Dogenzaka. They must have some incredible stories to tell!
A couple of months ago during the three day festival in Shibuya I went to pay my respects at the Konouhachimanu grand shrine, the official protector shrine of Shibuya and Aoyama. The weather had been bad all day and it had just stopped raining so there were very few people at the actual shrine. The most of the festival takes place in the middle of the commercial areas of Shibuya and since the shrine lies almost hidden between tall buildings and offices not many people actually know that it is there. Founded in 1092, it is one of Tokyo’s older and more important shrines. Despite being so old the shrine’s present priest is quite young and modern minded, so during the festival there are rock bands, jazz bands and even karaoke concerts taking place at the shrine’s main stage, I arrived just in time to see one of the classic old kagura plays being performed, one that I have seen many times before.
Inside the grand shrine grounds there is also a smaller Tamatsukuri Inari shrine (玉造稲荷神社), and besides the shrine there is a Toyosaka Inari shrine (豊栄稲荷神社), both devoted to the God of rice and fertility, with a row of ten torii, red shrine gates leading up to the altar.
The best little piece of trivia though, is that this is also the location of what was once one of the biggest castles in what is now Tokyo! Not many people know that Shibuya had a castle roughly between the 12th and the early 16th centuries, and although the now hidden Shibuya river is slightly more famous, even fewer are aware that it once served as a defensive moat to this hilltop castle. The only remaining piece of this castle is a small stone from one of the walls, tucked away in the shrine grounds. I have been to this shrine many times but never actually noticed the stone. Next time I go I will try to get a photo of it!
Easily the best thing about the festivals, that part which strike me hardest, is the way that the festivals take precedence over everything else. There are no city officials, no policmen, just the local community coming together and enacting the rites of their fathers and father’s fathers before them, and so on, for as long as people have lived in this area (in this case, over 900 years). The omikoshi of Maruyamacho (円山町) stopped traffic and commandeered the streets in their procession through the heart of modern and commercial Shibuya. It was great to see everything stopping around them as they made their way to the big scramble street crossing in front of Shibuya station. I walk these streets often and it’s good to see the connection between the hyper modern fashion sensitive Shibuya and the ancient folk traditions and religions of the local community.
The standard garment for any festival in Japan is the hanten (半纏), a lose coat worn on top of almost anything. Some them are huge, of lose material and favored by for example yosakoi dancers, some are very hard and tightly woven with large threads and fire resistant, the perfect body armor for firefighters. The standard hanten though, can be of almost any material. Some people go ahead and get personalized collars that they attach to their hanten, usually with their personal names or family names and sometimes family crests or club allegiance or official titles. In this case, it is a small crest of Shibuya above the name. On the back of the hanten, you’ll usually find the sedaimon or semon which is usually the crest or symbol of the neighborhood or association. Hanten also make nice souvenirs, especially if you are into antique ones, usually very small.