In the last days of the war there were many air raids over Tokyo, and in the biggest of them all most, if not all, of the Asakusa district in modern day Taito Ward was destroyed in the massive fires. In the years it took to rebuild the main temple, the Sensoji, a few new dances and festivals were put on as a treat for the survivors and those helping out in rebuilding the Asakusa. One of these were the Golden Dragon Dance (金龍の舞), where a troupe of musicians would perform on a cart while eight men whirled around an 18m long 88kg heavy dragon puppet. These days the dance lives on and is put on at the temple three times a year. At the Tokyo Jidai Matsuri, or festival of the ages, I saw it swirling around and entertaining the crowds and particularly the kids and the young ladies. I am sure plenty of photographers were very please as well as the heavy dragon head came rushing towards them! Asakusa, with the new lighting design at the Sensoji temple is one of the absolutely most popular tourist spots in the world!
For years I have known the photo of the ladies dressed in white egret costumes, dancing at Japanese temples in certain festivals, but I have never been able to catch one of the performances live. It is said the tradition of dressing up as the slender white egrets that you often see in Japanese rice fields or rivers started in Shimane prefecture about 500 years ago. These days the ritualized dance called sagimai (鷺舞) takes place in a handful of places around Japan, with slight variations. It is probably one of the most spectacular ritual dances in Japan today. I came across this performance in Asakusa on the morning of the great Jidai Matsuri (festival of the ages) where they had an unannounced performance right in front of the temple. It was hugely crowded and the only thing I could do to get a decent shot was to use a zoom lens from quite a distance, it was too crowded to get anywhere near the dancers at street level, so unfortunately I can’t show you just how cool the look when they mimic the birds and the move in a synchronized group. After their performance, they paraded out of the temple grounds to prepare for the grand procession later in the day. If you ever have the option of seeing one of these dances, I really recommend you take it! Some day I will get my chance too!
I raced to Kyoto to check out their Jidai Matsuri, or festival of the ages, only to come back to Tokyo and find that we had our own as well, in Asakusa. Not quite as big as the Kyoto one, and only human participants they are quite different. I saw these great looking people at the festival today, which began very crowded and thinned out considerably towards the end as we had an unseasonably cold day. I really hope I didn’t catch a cold after spending 4 hours out in the windy streets of Asakusa! If you haven’t been to either one of the festivals before, you really should pick at least one for next year’s To Do list. Enjoy, more photos to come!