Being a very local festival means that you have to make the most of all the resources you’ve got. At the Onoterusaki Shrine festival last weekend local school kids manned the festival wagon, the dashi, to make sure the adults had the proper music for when they carried their omikoshi around the neighborhood. There were a whole bunch of kids piled into the little dashi and several others walked next to it for their turn at the drums. An adult drum leader and flute leader took turns leading the kids and making sure they didn’t stray too far from the traditional festival melodies that have stayed the same for centuries, maybe even millennia. When these kids grow up and have children of their own they’ll do the same I think.
The music in these festivals are very catchy, and once I hear one loop of the flute the melody tends to get stuck in my head for days afterwards. After visiting a few dozens of festivals you start picking up on the subtle differences in tone and melody. The two that I can never get out of my head so far is one particular bugle call from the Hamamatsu festival in Shizuoka and a buddhist flute melody from the Ikegami Oeshiki here in Tokyo.
Last weekend was torture and heaven at the same time for us festival lovers of Tokyo. First there was the huge annual Sanja festival in Asakusa with hundreds of years of tradition and 2 million visitors. Then there was the huge Ohara Kagoshima festival in Shibuya on Sunday with a rare chance to see a genuine Kagoshima prefecture festival in Tokyo! On top of that we had the once every three year superbly local festival at the Onoterusaki Shrine in Tokyo’s Iriya district, which is actually so close to Asakusa that the omikoshi from the two completely unrelated festivals could share the same border street without any interaction. Naturally I picked the Onoterusaki festival to spend the bulk of my time, because it is the rarest and also because it is so close to the much more famous Asakusa festival there were virtually no tourists at all. I think I saw one or two on both days of the festival, other than that there were almot only locals or people actually involved in the festival procession itself. In other words, Fantastic and just the kind of festival I am always looking out for. Here’s some photos of one of the omikoshi “docking” near the shrine on the first day of the festival. Many more to come!
The weekend saw one of the biggest festivals in Japan, Asakusa’s famous Sanja Matsuri. From Friday to Sunday, early morning to late night hundreds of omikoshi, portable shrines, criss cross the streets of Asakusa carried by tens of thousands of people. It’s one of these once in a life time spectacles! Although Asakusa is mostly famous for the huge buddhist temple there, there is also a smaller shrine called Asakusa Jinja just next to it, and some of the omikoshi representing the different neighborhoods make a point of visiting it. I followed the noise and the chanting of one omikoshi to reach the shrine. It turned out I was just in time to catch the last of the Nouraku plays, an ancient Japanese art form that has survived the millennia basically unchanged. More photos of that to come later!
The portable shrines you’ll see at most Japanese festival, the omikoshi, aren’t that heavy in themselves, usually the logs or poles that the omikoshi is carried upon weighs far more. The whole set can vary between 500-4500kg. Naturally the big ones are not suitable for kids so instead the local children are given miniature omikoshi to practice. At the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s Fuchu City I saw these mini-omikoshi being carried around town by the local kids. It was really difficult to get any decent photos, not only did I have to adjust for the glaring sun playing hide and seek between clouds, but also the kids were fast, almost running! They had crossed over the first main gate of the shrine into the inner courtyard in less than half a minute. Fuchu kids really take after their parents. The heart of the Kurayami festival is the historical Okunitama Shrine, consecrated in the year 111 A.D. The beautiful gate you see in the background though was rebuilt in 2011 A.D. and still smells of fresh wood!