Last night was the annual Tourounagashi (灯篭流し) ceremony at the huge Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. It takes place during Obon, which is the traditional time for Japanese people to tend their ancestral graves, remember the relatives who came before them and pray and give offerings to their ancestors. At the temple, the Tourounagashi ceremony is part of that tradition and buddhist monks chant over the ceremony as lay people let painted paper lanterns slide into Sumida river, carrying prayers for peace and rest for their deceased loved ones. Even deceased pets can be honored in this way. The ceremony in Tokyo is not very big, the more famous ones are held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as Obon coincides with the a-bomb remembrances over there. Other famous ones are held in Fukui, Kyoto, Niigata and Yokohama.
Not to worry about pollution and littering, this being Japan all the lanterns are collected as the are carried by the wind along the river by volunteer boat teams making sure not to add to the trash in the river. Speaking of trash, in the years I have lived in Tokyo the river has actually become markedly cleaner. I see less garbage and more birds in the river than before.
The quay from which the lanterns were launched were packed with people so I had to be content with staying up on the embankment. Maybe next time I’ll join the people offering lanterns and prayers.
As a bonus, one photo of the always magnificent Kaminariom, the huge paper lantern under the gate leading to Sensoji temple. Enjoy!
There’s festivals, and then there’s The Festival with a capital F, the biggest and happiest traditional festival in Japan is the massive Sanja Matsuri held in Tokyo’s historic Asakusa district every year. Millions of people and tens of thousands of omikoshi carriers make this the place to be if you are into festivals. I was going over this year’s Sanja Matsuri photos when I found these that illustrate well the “scrum” of the omikoshi, how people are jostling, arguing, joking and teasing their way into the omikoshi with sometimes several hundred members per omikoshi (portable shrine)! Quite different from more local festivals in smaller villages and cities where there’s usually just enough people to get by. And there’s not one of these omikoshi, there’s hundreds of them parading around. It’s easy to get lost in taking photos and ending up cornered between to buildings in the middle of the scrum unable to get out. I saw this parade of omikoshi headed by musicians and after them a mostly female omikoshi with some lovely looking ladies! Look at the last few photos to get an idea of the amount of people, and then imagine the whole city looking like this, several blocks in every direction! Sanja Matsuri is so big I have several friends who refuse to go there because of the crowds, but I don’t mind. Can’t wait for next year’s Sanja festival!
I still haven’t shared 1% of the photos I took of the twice (or thrice actually) annual Sagimai dance ritual in Asakusa’s Sensoji temple earlier this year. As part of one of their three performances during the day (naturally I saw all three of them) they perform a procession as they retire back to the temple that is their base during the day. In this procession they are guided by local participants that acts other roles of the mythical reenactment. Someday I would love to see them perform or train in their home shrine, the famous Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, one of my favorite shrines in the world.
One of the many colorful traditions to come out of the back streets of old Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district was the Kitsunemai (狐舞ひ), fox dancing. Yoshiwara was the premier red light district of Japan’s premier city that at the time, around the 18th century, was already the biggest city in the world with over a million people. Here courtesans, entertainers, poets and dancers rubbed shoulders (and more) with the nobles, merchants and warriors visiting from all over the country. If ancient Japan was anything like the present day Japan, the competition between the entertainment houses must have been fierce, and one way to drum up patrons was to put on a show in the streets, much like event marketing today! The Kitsunemai was one of the most popular shows, and it must have worked because the tradition of fox dancing lives on today. I saw this troupe of fox dancers at the Oiran parade in Asakusa a few months ago. Their leader is Yurinosuke of the Yoshiwara Kitsune Troupe (吉原狐 百合之介). I am not sure but it might be that this is the first troupe’s first or second public performance in over 70 years here in what used to be the Yoshiwara district! I hope they can keep the tradition alive!