Many festivals in Japan feature the huge wheeled shrine platforms called dashi (山車) that often carry dancers and musicians. Some of these have engines, others rely on manpower and others a combination. Some are so large that they have to be lifted up and rotated because they can’t turn! On the first day of the Akasaka Hikawa Shrine festival a week ago they only had the one dashi out, but it’s a beauty. It is always so fun to see these very traditional handmade wagons being pulled around a modern city center, full of glass, concrete and neon signs. Very few people still live in these commercial districts so the omikoshi teams usually rely on staff from local companies and shops and even night clubs to help out, which makes for a friendly bunch of fun loving people, as you can see in some of these photos.
Still the festival season isn’t over, although it is drawing towards a close as the weekends see fewer and fewer festivals. Better enojy it while it lasts!
I hope you are not getting tired of festival photos! It is the festival season and I spend most of my free time following the festivals around Tokyo. Here are some more photos from the festival at Akasaka’s grand Hikawa shrine. The procession has moved down to just in front of Akasaka Mitsuke station, and there it lines up, reforms and get ready for a return journey up the slope to Akasaka station, in front of Akasaka Sakasu. The lantern bearers and officials get a chance to drink something as cans of soda and tea are passed around. I usually drink about a liter of fluids during a couple of hours of just shooting these processions, I can only imagine how parched the people taking part must be!
For some reason this is the part of the festivals that I like best. The quiet moment just before the action starts, the rest and the readiness. When everyone is waiting for the signal to go, no one in the procession (or even the policemen) knowing any more than their own limited part, everyone trusting and waiting for someone to give the go ahead. It takes a lot of energy to control a “machine” like this, to keep it on its toes ready to start. Once the procession starts going it follows a logic of its own and the people involved perform their part. So my favorite photo this time is the fourth from the bottom. Just minutes before starting. In the last two photos you can see concrete pillars sticking up from the ground, I am standing on one of these as I take the photos. I usually don’t like taking photos from above, but sometimes it is fun to do something from an inconvenient angle. I generally have a very bad sense of balance but for some reason got up on these tiny rounded pillars no problem at all.
In the third to last photo you can see the different lanterns held up in the procession, each is decorated with the name of the neighborhood it belongs to, showing that they take part in the festival. It is an honor to get to carry one of these! More photos to come!
Last night was the first of the three days of the large Hikawajinja Matsuri, or festival, in Tokyo’s posh downtown Akasaka district. On the first night there is only one omikoshi preceded by only one dashi, large wooden wagon ceremonial platforms. These dashi are supremely heavy and it takes a lot of people to maneuver them and pull them even on level ground. In Akasaka there are a few steeper streets where the wagon has to be let down very gently not to careen down the street out of control! Indeed even the name Akasaka means red-slope! I wonder if the slopes of Akasaka has influenced the route the of the festival procession? The dashi is controlled by two ropes and the way they are pulled influences the way the wagon moves. Not an easy task (as you can see in the last photo)! More photos from this festival to come!
The many Hikawa Shrine originated in the old Musashino province and thanks to royal patronage they became very influential and were able to establish branch shrines all over what was to become modern Saitama prefecture and Tokyo metropolitan area. Today there are over 200 branch shrines, with the main one in Saitama’s Omiya and the main one in Tokyo in Akasaka. It is connected to a water God as it is said that it was founded on the edge of a large swamp that existed in the area in ancient times. All of the Hikawa shrines have their own festival days, and the main Tokyo shrine’s is in September. I took these photos last year of the festival preparations, on the first of three evenings. You can tell it’s the first evening by the fresh look on the faces of the participants! The uniforms are crisp and clean and the priest inaugurating the festival is respected with bowed heads and ritual chanting. Things are not always quite as ordered on the second or third night! On this first night you have a dashi, a large mobile wooden wagon shrine with statues of gods and heroes on top, and also an omikoshi, a mobile shrine being carried by people of the local community and overseen by officers elected as a mark of respect and ability. The omikoshi starts when the head man of the community (sometimes a woman though) stands up on top of wooden stepladder and bangs two large wooden block together. The sound will carry over the din of any festival! While up there his balance is not very good so there’s always one or two officers holding his belt (obi) to make sure he doesn’t fall. Sometimes when you see a large head man there will be two or three men holding him up! Before the ceremony starts water, tea and sometimes stronger stuff is distributed so that everyone can stay hydrated. In the old days this was a bucket with a ladle that was passed around but in these modern times the slightly more hygienic paper cups are used. There’s also the standard bearers, here carrying paper lanterns with the names and symbols of the town community and the shrine that protects it. Usually being a standard bearer is an honor and quite often the prettier members of the community will be asked to take part.
No matter how many of these festival I see I can never get enough! There are many upscale hotels in Akasaka and the area is popular with business travelers and expats so if you happen to find yourself in Akasaka after the meetings are over, instead of heading to the pubs and bars of the area you might want to take a walk up to the large Hikawa shrine!