I spent the weekend at the Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine in Tokyo’s Shimokitzawa, one of the main attractions for me was the three performances of traditional Kagura, or Noh theatre. A young warrior and demon battling with swords and war hammers, quite a lot of action for being not theatre! The mostly younger audience were watching throughout the evening when three or four actors would perform in each set, accompanied by a trio of musicians from the very young to the quite old. The sets are quite long and the there are no written sheets of music so I have always wondered how they can remember their parts, especially since there are no melodies or consistent beats. I guess that just like everything else here in Japan it is a question of constant practice throughout years.
I couldn’t help but taking a photo of one young fan whose mother was kind enough to lift him up on to the side of the stage so that he could see what was happening in the performance. I am always fascinated that the masks looks so realistic although they are clearly nothing more than masks.
It’s that time of the year – festivals everywhere! So many in fact that I would need a couple of dozens of clones to have a chance at covering them all. Yesterday I visited the Kitazawa Hachiman Jinja in Tokyo’s hip Shimokitzawa district in Setagaya ward. Early in the day the shrine wasn’t that crowded but people kept coming and at night it was packed, dark and hot! People everywhere, the food stands doing their best in helping us navigate by smell alone. All in all, a great festival for everyone, but especially for kids and families. The shrine even had a novel way of handling the
amigo (curse you autocorrect!) maigo (lost children), between the shows on stage they would just take the kids up on stage and the happy parents would pick them up. Very efficient! You know it’s a good festival when the police’s main concern is to look after lost kids. The main event is today, so if you are in the city and want to see something traditional you’d better head over. It’s started already!
This is also the 1700th post of the blog. Not the 1700th ever posted (I go back and clean out the boring posts every now and then) but the 1700th of the posts online right now. I think I deserve a piece of cake. Stay with me for the 2000th post sometime in 2014!
More photos of the kids taking part in the traditional Yushima Tenjin festival near Tokyo’s Ueno district earlier this summer. It’s great seeing them as they do their bit to make sure the tradition continues and to learn the ways of the community. The kids are usually out first, early in the afternoon so that they can be safely out of the way when it is the adult’s turn. A lot of kids work hard for this and their reward is to watch their parents take part in the big omikoshi parades and of course to play and eat at the festival market stands. In the second photo two young ones walk past a pop gun stand. Police block most of the roads leading up to the shrine on festival days, doing their part in handing the neighborhood back to the control of the community. The one weekend where people are more important than cars. I wish every day could be festival day!
One of the first orders of the day on any matsuri or festival day is to make sure the kids are doing their part for the communtiy and the local gods! Most festivals have special teams of volunteers gather up the local children and have them carry the kid sized omikoshi or portable shrines around the area. This way the kids can learn about the community and the rituals and traditions that binds it together while learning the dress, the different jobs and how to work together to carry the heavy omikoshi succesfully on their shoulders. Being kids though, it is hard to keep from getting distracted once you pass the colorful street vendors, the yatai, selling food, candy, drink, toy and offering games! All of these kids did great and none broke rank! The head of the neighborhood committee usually keeps the costumes and uniforms prepared for when they are needed and pass them out to kids taking part, some of the coats are older than others and you sometimes see quite a variety in styles and colors, but usually all with the same traditional neighborhood marks: the older the neighborhood, the longer the traditions! If you visit a festival in Japan and want to see the kid’s omikoshi it is usually best to be out early, as the kids rituals are usually performed well before it is time for the adult to come out and play! It is always fun to take these kind of photos, the kids are all adorable!