Tokyobling's Blog

Hanazono Jinja Matsuri – Shinjuku Grand Festival

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 18, 2014

A couple of weeks ago saw the grand Hanazono Jinja festival in Tokyo’s capital, Shinjuku. The festival centers on the Hanazono Shrine almost hidden behind a few tall buildings in Kabukicho. This year was the grand festival in which the main omikoshi of the shrine gets taken out accompanied by a special dashi or festival wagon pulled by a team of the stronger miko, shrine maidens. The dashi is staffed by a kids and adults performing the traditional hayashi music style so famous in Japanese festivals. While all this is going on there are also multiple omikoshi doing the rounds of the parish, and even a few kid sized versions for the smaller members of the community. This is also one of the more crowded festivals of Tokyo and gets a lot of attention in media and tourist information centers. Now, this area of Shinjuku is not the most middle class place to hang out, so the festival can be a little rougher around the edges, drawing a wilder crowd than most festivals. Still there are plenty of families and kids taking part and since this is Japan, it is very safe as long as you stay away from the massive omikoshi!

The first four photos show one of the neighborhood omikoshi just on the edge of Shinjuku’s Golden Gai!

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More Yushima Tenjin Matsuri

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on June 17, 2014

One of the great spring festivals of Tokyo, the Yushima Tenjin Matsuri was as good as usual this year too. I didn’t have much time to spend on it, but I managed to be there for when the omikoshi entered the shrine for the end of the first day’s ceremonies. The omikoshi of this shrine is quite tall and the historical bronze tori (the gate at the front of every shrine, this one being the oldest bronze tori in existence in Tokyo) is quite short making for an interesting moment when the omikoshi is carefully maneuvered into the shrine grounds. Clearing the tori always elicits a cheer from the audience of festival goers!

The path from the tori to the main shrine is usually lined with all kinds of yatai, selling food, drinks and games to adults and kids. One of the most popular is the classic “kingyosuku” or Goldfish Rescue where kids try to fish as many goldfish as possible from a tub of water using a thin piece of paper. I can never understand how they do it. However some parents are not too fond of the idea of a yearly increase of live goldfish so the alternative game of Rubber Ball Rescue is usually even more popular. Fish a certain number of balls from a tub of water. Not as challenging but the kids love picking out their favorite balls. If you have kids and visit a Japanese festival, this might be the best game you can have them try out as the owners of the stands never let a kid go home empty handed!

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Ometaisai – Dashi and Hayashi

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 10, 2014

Here are some more photos from the annual Ometaisai, the grand festival of Ome City in western Tokyo, quite far from Shinjuku but connected to it on one long straight road called the Ome Kaido. The Ome Kaido doubles as the venue for the many large Dashi (山車) of the festival. These festival wagons are loaded with musicians and dancers and travel up and down the main street, stopping to do battle with the hayashi teams and other dashi they encounter along the way. The object of the battle is to throw the other team of their rhythm and in case of another dashi it is the winning team that gets right of way while the other team has to hold back. It is the job of all the members of the team to cheer the musicians of their own team on!

Naturally the people pulling these huge wagons get thirsty and there are plenty of spots ready for refreshments on the way, offering square wooden or lacquered boxes from which to drink sake, Japanese fermented rice spirits. In some cities and during some seasons on the corners of the box is prepared with a pinch of salt to help you through the heat of the day. You might recognize the label on the barrel of this hayashi group as being that of the famous Sawanoi Sake brewery that I blogged about late last year. They must have gotten a very good vintage because it tasted fantastic (I lucked out and was offered a box just for passing – and I obviously accepted).

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Ometaisai – Ome Grand Festival

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on May 6, 2014

Every year on the second and third of May the city of Ome in western Tokyo throws its grand festival, the Ometaisai. This is the biggest festival on the little city that lies just in the middle of the great Omekaido, a road that was built in 1603 by orders of the Shogun in Edo (Tokyo) in order to transport material for the Edo castle (sadly long gone). The road stretches from Kofu in Yamanashi prefecture, through Ome City and ends at the big street crossing just to the north of Shinjuku Station. In the old days Ome sprang up as a shukuba, a road post that provided food, rest and lodging for public officials traveling along the road. These days most people use the train to reach Tokyo, which is 800 yen one way from Ome to Shinjuku and take just under an hour. For people working in Tokyo and have their companies pay for the train fare, living in Ome should be a very attractive option: great access to nature, rivers, mountains, hiking trails and hunting, not to mention that rents in Ome City is about one fifth of what they are in central Tokyo!

While visiting the festival I met so many friendly people. There were plenty of dashi, mobile festival wagons, manned by locals. One cool man helped me make sure I got close enough to the dashi to take these photos and stay safe while doing so. The dashi are not so fast but they weave around quite a bit and the crew pulling them sometimes need to act quickly to steer it left or right. I loved the hair on one of the hayashi drummers up on the first dashi I saw: her friend asked me jokingly after taking his photo wether I had also gotten a photo of their own Lady Gaga! Of course I had!

The festival follows the Omekaido, that runs through the city, with hayashi music stations set up at intervals along the route. The dancers on these stations take turns and whenever a shishi (lion) dancer comes out parents rush up with their children to have them bit on the head! It is supposed to bring health, good luck and intelligence! Some kids absolutely hate this but others enjoy it so much they did their best to reach the shishi even without the help of their parents.

If you have a chance to visit the Ome festival, do it! This is easily one of the most easily accessible “countryside” festivals for people based in Tokyo, and it is really fun and colorful. I will keep posting photos from this festival, as everywhere I went there was something fun or interesting going on.

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