A few weeks ago I visited the fantastic Narita Gionsai in neighboring Chiba Prefecture’s Narita City, famous for hosting Japan’s biggest international airport as well as the grand Naritasan temple. The street from Narita station to the temple itself is wonderfully quaint and old fashioned, and I managed to catch the omikoshi procession as it made its way to and from the temple. The main attraction of this festival however, is the massive festival wagons, hence the rather low key omikoshi ceremonies!
I will post more about the grand Narita Gionsai later in the week!
Last month’s Yoshiwara Gionsai was just as exciting and fun as usual. I could only make it there for the second day, missing the huge tree procession of the day before. One of the peculiar things about this local festival is the omikoshi which is covered in bamboo grass and moved in a way that is different from most other omikoshi. It is take around the parish districts by teams divided by neighborhood and at each handover an ceremony where a bottle of sea water is emptied over the head of the headsman of the omikoshi team. Although many omikoshi teams are now unisex this one is still only open to males, for at least one obvious reason I would only discover when actually trying to lift the omikoshi: it is incredibly physically demanding and space is very limited, so you need as many of the strongest people you can fit, and preferably all of the same height! There is even several points in the procession where the omikoshi stops and is jumped up and down. I don’t know if the sense of fear is stronger than the sense of pain and exhaustion, but failure is not an option!
It is great fun to follow the omikoshi careening through the streets. In the old days it used to be even wilder and different neighborhoods would wrestle for control of it – in mid procession! But a few years ago a straying omikoshi took out a whole stand of festival food and it was decided to calm things down a bit. The women of the neighborhood are kept busy – preparing and handling the hand over ceremonies, following the omikoshi around cooling it off with water and making sure not too many innocent bystanders are caught in the procession!
All in all great fun and if you are in Shizuoka (or in Tokyo and don’t mind the train travel) I can really recommend this festival for next year!
More photos from one of my favorite festivals in Tokyo, the grand Hanazono Jinja Matsuri! While being a people’s festival rooted in the local neighborhoods, these days very few people actually live in the parish, so many of the participants are people working in the area or having businesses here, which makes for an interesting crowd. These photos show the main procession, the priests, the dashi (a mobile music platform) pulled by shrine maidens and last but not least several of the omikoshi taking part in the festival. These pass right in front of the famous Isetan departement store in the heart of Shinjuku. As you can see from the photos it gets very crowded! I am already looking forward to next year’s festival which will be much smaller but fun still!
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!