Touristing in Tokyo in the summer means that you have a fairly decent chance of seeing at least a handful of festivals, especially on the weekends. Tokyo has it’s own share of huge famous festivals but even if you don’t have the time to visit the larger festivals of other parts of the country, if you are lucky, they might come to you! The famous Nebuta festival has a pretty large appearance in the western Tokyo city of Tachikawa every year, where I took these photos of locals and guests from up north handling the huge drums and paper figure floats.
To get to Tachikawa it is just a simple train ride on the central Chuo Line going straight through Tokyo, and the festival spot is a 10-15 minutes walk or a single stop on the Nambu line, to Nishikunitachi Station, and then 5 minutes walking.
Even though days are pretty long in the Tokyo summer, as the sun sets it gets harder and harder to balance the light of the floats and the people around them in your photographs. As it gets pitch black you just have to make a choice of which one to light for. Here’s a few of my favorites from the very start of the festival! Enjoy!
I am extremely fortunate in that I am born a walker. I love walking. Can’t get enough of it. And few cities are so perfectly walkable as Tokyo. I often get off trains a couple off stations early just to get the pleasure of walking the final part of my journey, and I seldom use connecting trains, preferring to get somewhat in the right direction and then walk the last bit. Yesterday I lucked out again as I walking to a place two stations Shinagawa, and halfway there I lucked out and happened to find myself at a street performance by one of Tokyo’s most famous taiko drumming groups, the Daigen group, who has won several top awards both nationally and internationally. Even their junior members looked tougher than most grown up men in the audience! Their manager kept asking us to get closer but from where I was at front every beat of the drums brought sharp pain to my ears so I can understand the audience for keeping their distance!
Just at the start of this year I blogged about a chance walk in on a performance by the fantastic taiko group Yushima Tenjin Shiraume Taiko group (湯島天神白梅太鼓), and a few months ago I had the chance to see them again at the Yushima Tenjin festival in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. They performed three complete sets at the back of the shrine, all the times with the same energy and smiles! Japanese taiko drumming is a quite physical experience to see. You can feel the drums in your stomach and if you stand too close you can feel the air pounding in your ears. It is a fantastic form of music! The performances I saw this time was almost totally done by women, except for one young man. I really hope I can catch them again a few times this year!
Usually when I take photos I never bother cropping them when I edit them. I try to do all my cropping before I take the photo. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. I prefer my photos un-cropped not only because they look more “true” in my eyes (as if the physical act of acquiring a subject, composing in your viewfinder and then pressing the trigger to have your computer analyze a sensor image and interpret it for you wasn’t quite far removed from truth anyway) but also because it saves me a lot of time not to worry too much about cropping in post processing. Sometimes you’ll see a photo with a very strange composition, usually it is not me trying to be arty, rather it is just that I tried to avoid taking photos of something just outside the photo frame!
The bigger the town, the bigger the festival, and the bigger the festival the bigger the parade! As anyone who has been part of a large ceremony knows, there is a lot of waiting involved! I walked around at the head start area of one of the first of the many parades on this day, one of three days making up the festival period, and grabbed the opportunity to take some photos of the parade as it gets ready to move ahead. There are shrine maidens, priests, men carrying holy items, the omikoshi teams, dashi (huge mobile votive platforms) for entertainment and banner carriers and musicians of all kinds. It can imagine it takes a lot of experience and many years in the community to learn to manage this. Just look at the cool older men in charge of it all!
These kinds of festivals are not solely for fun and entertainment or even religion and tradition. The kinds of skills and community relations needed to pull a massive festival like this through without the use any sort of technology higher than a notepad, are skills that are vital in protecting the community in case disaster or war strikes. If you and your neighbors can navigate and arrange even a small part of a festival like this, you will be able to quickly organize vital life lines in case of a big earthquake, or rescue teams when large fires or floods happen. You will also know each other, the neighborhood, who to go to, who the natural leaders are, what kind of skills people have and what you can expect from people when things get tricky. I saw this with my own eyes in 2011 at the tsunami disaster area, and as much as I hate to imagine it, there will be more disasters, large and small, here in Japan. So the next time you see the old dudes and ladies staring silently out over a festival in full swing, you know that they are probably both proud over a job well done and happy over their heard-earned skills!