One thing you will almost always find at a traditional Japanese festival is the taiko troupe. Taiko drummers are used at most festivals to entertain or cheer the omikoshi carriers on. Sometimes at the shrine itself, near it, or somewhere along the route. I once visited a festival where they used the taiko drummers to calm the excited omikoshi crews down a little bit. Here at the Yoyogi Hachimangu festival which took place last week in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward there was a short performance to mark the half time of the omikoshi circuit around the parish. Taiko drummers are impossible to record correctly, the only way to experience it is to actually be there, and feel the drums in your body!
Last weeks saw the annual festival of the Yoyogi Hachimangu, a grand shrine located very scenically on top of a hill in Northern Shibuya Ward. Thanks to the good weather there were lot of people out and about in the area and up around the shrine it was standing room only, just as usual. I missed the Awaodori parade up to the main shrine building but instead I spent a bit more time with the omikoshi as they moved around the shrine. I have a lot of respect for the people who carry these, it is easily the most physically intense activity I have ever tried. It might look easy but it sure isn’t! My favorite guy was the man with the glasses who took turns carrying the omikoshi and manhandling the drums. His drumming skills were top notch and provided great entertainment to the crowd of people who followed him. If you visit Japan you need to make sure you see this at least once!
It is always a challenge to photography evening time festivals in Japan but one of the most challenging is the Kagurazaka Festival at the Akagi Shrine which is really very dark. It is so dark that one of the local omikoshi has been fitted with LED lights to great effect. It looks fantastic when it goes down the stairs all lit up from inside, surging through the sea of people gathered to enjoy the festival. Still the locals of Kagurazaka are quite in love with their festival and I often see omikoshi-surfers, usually young women or children riding the omikoshi and cheering everyone up. Obviously I have never done it myself but it must be very difficult. This little boy I saw on the first night of the festival when I was just passing through was a true champ of the game! He has one foot each on the two main logs and nothing but the sole of his slippers to keep him from falling off. Small children usually sit down which is probably safer. It must be such a thrill though!
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.