One of the things I love the most about Japanese festivals is that they are so multi-generational. Everyone gets a chance to join in and there is a place for everyone regardless of age or ability. One of the most exciting festivals in Tokyo is the massive Oeshiki buddhist ceremony at the huge Honmonji in Ikegami, Ota Ward in southern Tokyo. I took these photos of kids joining in, mimicking the adults with their matoi poles and ritual dancing. The kid’s versions are obviously much smaller but they still take it very seriously. Some of the kids are taped up like pro athletes! I can imagine that the constant twisting of the matoi poles can be very hard on fingers, hands and wrists. They also use a very fine talcum powder to get a proper grip on the poles, as the evening progresses the talcum tends to get everywhere! I found when I got home that evening that I too had been covered in a grey mist of powder! Even my camera was coated in it.
One little kid in particular caught my attention, too small to take part in the dancing the kid was still participating fully even from the pram!
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!
Despite having been a diehard awaodori dancing fan for years now I still see new (new for me) local Tokyo teams every year. At Nerima Ward’s Nakamurabashi awaodori festival this summer I saw the Nagoyakaren (なごやか連), one of the local teams participating in that festival. Local teams are usually larger than visiting teams and Nagoyakaren was no exception, with energetic dancers and lots of very cute kids. I missed this team at this year’s Awaodori festival in Koenji (Tokyo’s largest) but I will keep an eye out for them next year if possible. The young mother dancing with the baby on her hip was most impressive – it must take a lot of strength! The local audience was also very energetic!
Back at the end of September this year I visited the annual Fukuro matsuri being held every year at in Ikebukuro’s west area. It is a huge multi day festival where omikoshi teams from all neighborhoods in the area take part. I have blogged about it several times before but every year I see something different. As usual I arrived a little bit late, but just in time to see the omikoshi teams start their parade around pass the Ikebukuro Station West Exit and into the entertainment district to the south west of the station. There must be thousands of participants dressed in the traditional hanten, the short coats that you can see a lot of in these photos. I still haven’t gone through all the photos I took so there will probably be more to come!