I have to apologize for all the nature themed posts lately, but spring is in the air and I can hardly keep my eyes from all the green around me lately! One of the least important looking buildings at the famous Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo is actually a piegeonnaire. The priests at the shrine are quite successfully breeding hundreds of pairs of white doves and I have noticed them around the shrine many times before, but never seen them enjoying the first days of spring quite like this. If you visit the shrine keep an eye out for these birds! Next time I will bring my proper long lens to get a closer look!
The coming of the cherry blossom season is closely tracked across the country, and in Tokyo the center of attention is the famous Yasukuni Shrine where the official cherry tree of the Tokyo metropolitan area grows. Every day the meteorological agency inspects the tree to check for signs of blossoming and when the time has come the Tokyo Cherry Blossom Seasoning is officially declared open. This is the signal for literally millions of people to descend on the gardens, parks and even roadside plots – anywhere beneath a cherry tree – to enjoy the traditional Japanese activity of “hanami”, flower viewing while drinking and making merry with friends and colleagues. There were plenty of people taking pictures of the few brave early flowers. Still few, but enough for officials to declare the season open, the earliest ever! Still, as I look around the city there are almost nothing on the cherry trees yet, so it will be awhile before the main flowering kicks in.
You can see the “monitor tree” itself in the second to last photo, with the main trunk of the tree at the far right of the photo and the single extended branch all the way to the far left of the photo, and in a close up, the 5-6 flowers necessary for the season to be declared open. Enjoy!
The famous lion dance can be seen all over Asia, and of course also here in Japan. At most festivals there is a group of lion heads dancers, “shishi-gashira”, and they interact with the audience before or after the performance by biting the heads of people, something which is supposed to bring good luck and courage! It’s so much fun to watch how different people react to having their head chewed on by a giant wooden lion’s head. Some kids are really stoic about it while others cry, kick and scream to get out of it! I saw this duo perform for the visitors to the New Year’s celebration at Yasukuni Shrine.
Did you get your omikuji for the new year yet? Omikuji are random fortune telling slips that you buy at shrines and certain temples. You can buy them all year round but most people make sure to get one on the first few days after the new year. There are usually twelve levels of fortune, one of which is indicated on the slip you receive. Some slips are very detailed and contain specific advice and information regarding different aspects of your fortune but most people only look wether they get the highest ranked omikuji, the daikichi or the lowest, daikyou, or anything in between. A positive omikuji is supposed to be worn close to your body and most people put them in their wallets. Negative omikuji can be neutralized by tying them at certain places in the shrine or around the branches of trees or as in this case, tied to a rope tied around a holy tree. Most people then go on and get one more omikuji, looking forward to a better fortune this time! I took this photo at Yasukuni shrine near Kudanshita on New Year’s Day.