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!
A couple of weeks ago I visited the biggest festival near Shinjuku station, at and around Hanazono Shrine near Kabukicho. This year’s festival was a “shadow” festival (kagematsuri, 陰祭り), so it wasn’t as lively as last year’s. Many shrines have “shadow” and “front” festivals, where the shrine’s own omikoshi comes out only on the “front” festival years. Usually this is once every two or three years. Some shrine festivals are never “shadow festivals”. These “Shadow” festivals usually finish earlier and are a little less rowdy, but unless you are a regular festival visitor you probably wouldn’t notice the difference. Here’s a first selection of the morning of the second day, as the shrine officials have a ceremony and get ready to bless the omikoshi before sending them on their way throughout the neighborhood!
In a few of the photos you can see the ritual clapping that is done to signal the start or end of the omikoshi . It is signaled by the leader of the group who gets upp in front of the omikoshi and claps with a pair of large wooden blocks. Immediately after he is done he is almost pulled down from the stand in order not to get crushed when the eager members rush to get the best places under the omikoshi. It looks almost comical when he is pulled down in the blink of an eye by the largest member of the group. The same ritual is repeated backwards when ending the omikoshi and every leader has his own way of clapping and signaling the end. Be too long about it and you’ll receive jeers, be too quick and people will jeer as well, it’s a difficult position but somebody must fill it! More photos to come!
Last weekend Shinjuku saw the annual Hanazono Shrine festival, the Hanazono Retaisai (花園神社例大祭 in Japanese). Most shrines have several festivals or matsuri doing the year, but the one to look out for is the reisai or reitaisai, which is a name give to the most important festival of the year for the shrine in question. As with all reitaisai, the different neighborhoods belonging to the shrine did their part and fielded huge teams of omikoshi bearers, standard bearers and musicians. I got a little late to the festival’s last day, but I managed to catch the Sankouchou (三光町) team as they finished their rounds, on the small back street between the shrine and the fantastic little area knowns as Golden Gai. Sankouchou is the old name (pre-1970s) for what is today, mostly Kabukichou Ichoume (歌舞伎町一丁目) and a handful of other locations around that area. Most interestingly, it includes Golden Gai and a large part of one of Asia’s largest red light districts, Kabukichou. Like churches and parishes in Christian countries, the old parish boundaries are still usually in use when it comes to festivals and traditions, which is also true in Japan. The address you live in decides which “parish” shrine you belong to, and you should look it up. It is not always the biggest or the closest shrine to your house.
The Hanazono shrine is the main shrine of the area to the east of Shinjuku station and therefore one of the most important shrines in Tokyo! The festival is a huge three day event and the last day saw a lot of streets being closed of for traffic to accommodate the omikoshi and the crowds. Great fun and definitely one of the most accessible shrine festivals in Japan. It’s a family thing with lot of people from all ages and all walks of life, from the underworld to the highest ranking politicians, and at the end, some really tired children. Enjoy!