Today, November the 15th is the second of the annual Torinohi, two or three days in November when traditional tornoichi markets are being held in many shrines and temples throughout Japan. The fact that both religions, shinto and buddhism, celebrate this tradition is interesting, the only difference between them is their reason for doing it. In all places the main object is to trade in the traditional kumade (熊手, or bear’s hand) decoration pieces, sometimes as small as 500 yen coin, and sometimes big enough to cover a small wall, there are all kinds of kumade and all the traders take great pride in displaying as much of their wares as possible. The basic form of the kumade comes from the humble garden rake, and the kumade is said to symbolize the raking in of health, happiness and health. It is traditional for local business to buy one each year to display in their shops. Whatever your belief is, the magic of the kumade actually works as it attracts customers. I personally always stop in front of a shop displaying a good kumade, giving the proprietor of the shop a chance to wheel me in and make a sale. The tradition is always buy a larger kumade than last year, so if you plan on following the tradition I would recommend starting out as small as possible, even though the sly tradesmen will always try to sell you their biggest!
The torinohi is counted using the old sexagenary system, where each cycle has twelve days, so in every year there will be two or three cycle endings. It is said traditionally that years with three torinohi in November are especially prone to house fires so sales of kumade with additional fire prevention prayers stuck to it increases. This is one of those years, and the third torinohi this year is on the 27th.
But today is also Tokyobling’s blog’s 5th year anniversary! The first post was on November 15th 2008. Time really does fly. I didn’t mean for it to become a daily job though. When I started I was inspired by the Boston Globe’s blog, The Big Picture which was started in May 2008 by Alan Taylor. The Big Picture is easily one of the best news sites in the world and very significant in the way news media has evolved online since then. The idea behind the blog was to tell news and stories through big images, with little or no text. Taylor was a web guy who was not satisfied with how the newspaper he worked for used photography online, so he started the blog on his own initiative. I could relate to that as I was in very much the same situation, seeing a lot of gorgeous images coming in and then being cut down so small that they hardly mattered in online news media. I was also reading a lot about photography online and I was very unhappy with the way so many talented photographers felt the need to diminish their work by reducing it in size and load the images with their names and watermarks and logos in an attempt to combat online image theft. I decided that I could do better than that by using the example of The Big Picture blog and post large images without useless copyright notices or logos inside them (people will steal your images no matter what you do if they are good enough to be stolen). Back in 2008 an image being 1200 x 798 pixels (my standard size, but only if you click them, the actual display is much smaller: I couldn’t find a good WordPress theme to use back then) was plenty large enough but these days I feel that it is much too small. Ideally someday I would like to find the time (and the skills needed…) to revamp the blog and start posting much larger, full size images at about 4000 x 2400 pixels or similar. Sure, it would be much more work, since I can hide quite a lot photographical errors by reducing images in size (soft photos, bad focusing, etc.) but I think it would be useful in the end, for me and for the viewer, you.
You can read more about the philosophy behind the blog at my About page. Now, let’s get on with working towards the 10 year anniversary in 2018!
The third of November was the first of the traditional Torinochi market taking place in shrines (and some temples) all over Japan. Not all shrines have this but some do and it is quite spectacular. The two most well known Torinoichi markets in Tokyo is the one at Asakusa and the one that I visited here in Shinjuku, at the Hanazono Shrine. The shrine has three entrances but most people use the smallest entrance, through an alley between two large buildings. It is easy to spot during a festival but can be tricky to find on a normal day. On festival days the alley is lined with street stalls and packed full of people. I took these photos as I headed towards the main shrine in the afternoon.
One of the odder snacks on sale this time was the Noshiika, a dried and often marinated or pickled squid that has been rolled through a flat press to create a slightly more chewable and more aromatic eating experience, best to go together with a cup (or several of your favorite sake). The other fun find was one of the mandatory plastic mask dealers, they had several series or variations that I have never seen before. Either I am late to the game or some of these masks will be big sellers in the coming festival season, the summer of 2014! More photos of the colorful market and the shrine itself, after dark, to come!
Noh is a form of Japanese theatre (some people call it Japanese opera) that has been practiced since the 14th century in more or less the same form. Despite being very archaic and often hard to understand it is still quite popular and many shrines put on special noh performances on the night leading up to the shrine festival or during the festival itself. Usually there are two or three actors on stage and a handful of musicians, some groups also sing or chant, whilst most of them seem to be silent these day, maybe in response to the often tumultuous and noisy festival going on around or near the noh stage. I think many westerners associate the expression “Japanese traditional art” with this particular form of theatre, but it is worthwhile to try and see it like the Japanese do: outside, on a hot summers evening surrounded by friends and neighbors. I saw this particular performance at the Hanazono Jinja (花園神社) on the night before their main festival day earlier this year.
The Hanazono shrine is one of the bigger in Shinjuku (an area many would say is the capital City of Tokyo), and it is often considered the patron shrine of entertainers, performers, musicians actors and even strippers hence it is popular with celebrities and people who want to become famous. It can be a little tricky to find as it is hidden among tall buildings but can find it easily by heading out of the east exit of Shinjuku station, walking straight north (yes the east exit actually leads you north) until you hit a very large four lane street. Cross it and turn right. Walk straight until you come to a big crossing, turn left and walk straight for just a little bit until you find the main entrance to the shrine to your left, and the large red torii gate. The shrine itself or the grounds it occupy is absolutely not the most attractive in Tokyo, but it’s is worth a visit if you are in the area and need to do something else than shopping. It’s also very close to the much more attractive Golden Gai, which you can access from the stairs at the back of the shrine.
The second batch of photos from the second day of the Hanazono Jinja festival in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. Of the hundreds of festivals I have visited so far, this is the only one where I got so close to the action that I was actually manhandled by one of the festival guys and lifted out of the way, quite possibly for my own good – I am ready to do a lot to get “the photo”, but getting trampled by three ton of omikoshi and people is a little bit too much! Shinjuku festivals are always lively, and this is one of the best. If you missed this year’s festival you should def. not miss next year’s, as it is going to be about three times as lively and three times as packed with people enjoying themselves!