Naturally I just had visit Yasukuni Shrine for the second day of the Shunkireitaisai, the main day. In the old days (any year during the more than 1000 year history of this ceremony) it was often attended by the emperor or one of his chosen representatives. Since 1978 however, the emperors of Japan has stopped visiting this shrine personally so the ceremony has to be performed without royal presence until their differences can be worked out. I am sure they will, some day in the future. The nicely dressed people are there to greet the ceremony as it makes its way to the heart of the shrine. The last day of the ceremony is on the 23rd of April, but I won’t be able to see that, unfortunately. It is a rare chance to be allowed to photograph these shinto ceremonies and I am happy I got to be there during these two days!
Every great shrine in Japan has a regular yearly festival, something called their “reisai”, so naturally one of the greatest shrines in the country, the Yasukuni shrine has two of them! One of which started yesterday, called the Shunkireitaisai, which means the Regular Spring Time Grand Festival, quite literally translated into English. It’s a three day event and yesterday they held the opening ritual in which a holy branch from a holy tree was presented to the inner sanctum and used to sanctify the attendants in the festival, in this case priests and a select few lay people, and even everyone who attended the ceremony, which included me! It’s the first time I have had this ritual performed on my although I have seen it from a distance dozens of times! Lucky me! Yesterday’s ceremony was only attended by about 50 people, a very small crowd, as the regular festival starts the following day, which would be today, the 22nd of April, and ends on the 23rd of April.
Usually, shinto priests and clergy aren’t very open to being photographed, so I have very few photos of priests in uniform since I don’t want to offend anyone, but on this occasion photography was allowed and I snapped away like there was no tomorrow! I hope you aren’t bored by the repetitive photos, all taken with my lovely prime lens, the 135mm at f2.8.
For the New Year countdown I did something unusual and attended a big countdown event in Zojoji, a large temple in the middle of Tokyo, just behind the big Tokyo Tower. The temple staff told us there were supposed to be about 30 000 people there but it was easily the most crowded event I have ever been in, it must have been closer to 100 000 people attending. Several thousand attendants had been given a balloon in which to attach there new year’s wishes and prayers and everyone was supposed to release them at the start of the new year! The balloons were made of biodegradable flour (I think) and contained a few flower seeds each. It will be interesting to see if there’s an increase in wild flowers around Tokyo this summer! Here’s a fun video from last year, taken from very close to where I was standing, even if the picture quality is bad it’s fun to listen to girls going “Sugoi sugoi sugoi!” over and over!
It was really hard to get any decent photos, but these might give you an idea. It was much to crowded for me though, next year I will go back to a more traditional shinto shrine countdown ceremony! Happy New Year, Akemashite omododeto gozaimasu! アケオメ！
I really thought I knew all the major shrines of Tokyo, all the jingu and all the jinja. But Tokyo keep throwing me surprises! One evening while taking a walk near Kudanshita (and passing Yasukuni Shrine) I saw a sign mentioning Tokyo Dai Jingu (東京大神宮) and had to take a look. It turns out that in the middle of a quite new high rise residential area one of Tokyo’s big five shrines lies quietly tucked away. It is associated with the grand shrine at Ise and was constructed originally in Hibiya, in the 13th year of Meiji (1880), under the name Hibiya Dai Jingu. After the big Kanto Earthquake in 1923 it was reconstructed at its present location and renamed Iidabashi Jingu in 1928. In 1945 it was again renamed to the Tokyo Dai Jingu. The main deity (kami, or sprit) worshiped at this shrine is none less than Amaterasu herself, the sun goddess and one of the major Gods of Japan. The shrine itself is rather small, with a newly refurbished main garden and buildings, it reminds me very much of Nogi Shrine, which has a very similar look and feel. I was surprised to see so many young visitors to the shrine, the 30 minutes I spent there saw many people in their 20 drop by to pray. There was also a wedding going on in the main shrine building, very beautiful! I love the smells and sounds of a wedding ceremony, even if I can only take part of it from the outside.