Last weekend I visited a festival put up at a local shrine associated with one of the largest shrines in the Japanese shinto religion, Hikawajinja (or Hikawa Shrine). This shrine which is located in Saitama just north of Tokyo has roughly 290 associated shrines throughout Japan, there’s even two within 5 minutes walk of my house! The Hikawa shrines are all dedicated to a God called Susanoo, God of Summer Storms and brother of the Goddess of the Sun and the God of the Moon.
Usually when a local shrine throws a festival it’s purpose is to appease and honor the local gods as well as to entertain the kids and reaffirm the bonds between the locals. Vigils are held to welcome the gods at various shops and street corners around the area. In the countryside tents are set up and fires lit, but here in the city a vacant store front or empty parking lot will do just as well. Locals stop by to chat and bring presents to the people manning the vigils and it seems like a great place to exchange gossip and information (see the last photo of this post).
The branch of Hikawa shrine that I visited wasn’t easy to find, located on a back street and with a railway running right in front of it I wouldn’t have found it if it weren’t for the brightly colored lanterns guiding visitors. This was easily the smallest festival I have ever visited in Japan, the were about 10 food and games stands on the shrine grounds and not more than 75 people.
Little did I know that this festival would teach me so much about culture! Not to be daunted by the small narrow space, the shrine had engaged a group of traditional Japanese noh theatre performers. A small band of 4 four played flutes and drums in a musical style I have heard performed countless times before in school festivals, concerts and cultural events. But never like this. This was intimate. This was on our level and for us. This wasn’t sponsored by any corporation or cultural agency. This was folk art as it was supposed to be.