Yesterday saw several big and small festivals taking place around Tokyo, not least the Nezu Shrine festival I blogged about earlier. I had an hour free on Sunday night to visit the Kagurazaka Shrine festival which usually puts on a good show on its kagura, or stage. I missed the performances though, but I wasn’t too late to see the two fantastic looking omikoshi being carried around town. Having visited the same festivals several times over the years it is reassuring to see that nothing really changes. Most likely they omikoshi will be carried around the streets of the parishes of the locals for thousands of years to come!
Kagurazaka is a rather happening area in the eastern parts of Shinjuku ward and you can easily get there from the Kagurazaka, Ushigome-Kagurazaka or Iidabashi stations. It is usually liveliest on Sunday afternoons and weekday evenings, not least because the hundreds of restaurants and bars in the area.
Sunday was the main day of the large Konnohachimangu festival, or the Shibuya festival. Lots of omikoshi (not as old as the one I blogged about yesterday) gathered for the main blessing ceremony right in front of the famous 109 department store just a stone’s throw from the even more famous Shibuya Scramble street crossing (arguably the center of Japan today). The streets were packed with the many different neighborhood omikoshi, and even though Shibuya is hardly a residential area these days there were plenty of volunteers from outside of the area as well. Although the main ceremony was over in a few minutes the omikoshi teams kept going for hours afterwards, all around Shibuya!
There are a lot of festivals going on in Tokyo this weekend, the biggest probably being the one in Shibuya that I posted yesterday, but not far behind is the Hikawa Shrine Matsuri in Tokyo’s central Akasaka (not to be confused with the very similar sounding place name Asakusa). This festival kicked off on Friday evening but I didn’t have time to visit so here are a few photos from my visit to this festival back in 2012, a couple of years ago. I have been to this festival many times and it is always fun, especially to see the large dashi, the mobile shrine platforms as they are pulled and pushed and dragged all around the narrow streets and hills of Akasaka (赤坂, even the name means Red Hill). There are two different dashi and they are used on different days, so depending on when you see them you are bound to see a different one. Dashi connoisseurs (yes there are such people!) can easily tell the difference, but less learned people like me have a bit of a hard time.
A good friend that I met by chance at a festival last weekend let me in on how omikoshi (the mobile shrines carried by parishioners around the neighborhood) are judged in action! I can’t believe I hadn’t gotten this earlier, but apparently people in the know look at the four tassels hanging around the edges of most omikoshi (the ones in this festival are blueish purple): if the tassels swing wildly in rhythm, it means that the omikoshi is moving with cheer and purpose, if they hang straight or just sort of rattle around it means the carriers are running low on energy and the proper spirit. The best way to get the tassels swinging is to cheer the carriers on which usually spurs everyone into action!
If you have time and the opportunity, don’t miss this or any of the many other big festivals this weekend!
I spent last weekend in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward and the Shimokitazawa district to enjoy and take part in the grand Kitazawahachiman Matsuri, an autumn festival for all the neighborhoods in the parish. One of the highlights of the festival is always the moment when all the neighborhood omikoshi (portable shrines carrying the kami, or god-spirit), gather at the shrine to pay their respects. One neighborhood fields two different omikoshi, one regular for the neighborhood and one unusual Onnamikoshi, or an omikoshi only for women! For natural reasons these are very popular but few neighborhoods have the resources to field two omikoshi, so they either limit the regular omikoshi to men or mix it up both for men and women. Carrying an omikoshi is definitively a team effort, but the things that make some members of the team strong independently makes them weaker in the team, and the omikoshi often serves as a subtle reminder of this.
The Kitazawahachimangu (北澤八幡宮) is located on the top of a hill and the omikoshi has to be carried up some quite steep stairs. Usually the neighborhoods have one or more (sometimes dozens) of lantern carriers, usually the young women of the neighborhood, after which comes the omikoshi directed by the more experienced members of the group using fans and whistles to signal both visually and audibly to the people carrying the omikoshi. It is impossible for any one single person to direct the omikoshi and sometimes they get stuck, move in the wrong direction or lurch dangerously to the side despite the best effort or dozens of team members. It is a remarkable thing to watch!
Other shrines or festivals that are famous for having at least one onnamikoshi are the Yasukuni shrine and the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa. More photos from this fantastic festival to come!