Tokyobling's Blog

Shichi-go-san Girls

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on December 14, 2013

Shi-go-san is one of my favorite Japanese rituals. It the a ritual that takes place when boys turning 3 or 5, and girls turning 3 or 7. It is traditionally celebrations to mark a childs advancement in age. Children are dressed up in special clothes and the whole family usually visits a shrine to take part in a special ceremony. Traditionally it takes place on November 15th every year and it has been going on since sometime in the Heian period (794-1185 A.D.) when it was reserved for court nobles. Later it became common even with the samurai class and in the recent period (starting in 1868 with emperor Meiji) it started being common in all classes of people. Although November 15th is the traditional date people do it more or less sometime around that time, sometimes months late or early: it is more important to be able to gather the entire family than to hit the correct date and in our modern times people really are too busy.

Back in the old days all children had shaved heads before the age of three so in the ceremony marked the day when the children could start growing their hair. At five boys would start wearing the hakama (a sort of kimono like trouser) and the girls would start wearing proper kimono with obi (the belt) at seven.

I took the first three of these photos at Tokyo’s famous Meiji Shrine in Shibuya Ward, and the last two at the Yushima Tenjin in Bunkyo Ward. The first girl with the absolutely adorable smile was very shy when she saw me with my camera.

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Ikegami Oeshiki Ceremony – Kids

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on November 22, 2013

One of the things I love the most about Japanese festivals is that they are so multi-generational. Everyone gets a chance to join in and there is a place for everyone regardless of age or ability. One of the most exciting festivals in Tokyo is the massive Oeshiki buddhist ceremony at the huge Honmonji in Ikegami, Ota Ward in southern Tokyo. I took these photos of kids joining in, mimicking the adults with their matoi poles and ritual dancing. The kid’s versions are obviously much smaller but they still take it very seriously. Some of the kids are taped up like pro athletes! I can imagine that the constant twisting of the matoi poles can be very hard on fingers, hands and wrists. They also use a very fine talcum powder to get a proper grip on the poles, as the evening progresses the talcum tends to get everywhere! I found when I got home that evening that I too had been covered in a grey mist of powder! Even my camera was coated in it.

One little kid in particular caught my attention, too small to take part in the dancing the kid was still participating fully even from the pram!

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More Torinoichi at Hanazono Shrine and Tokyobling’s 5th Year

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on November 15, 2013

Today, November the 15th is the second of the annual Torinohi, two or three days in November when traditional tornoichi markets are being held in many shrines and temples throughout Japan. The fact that both religions, shinto and buddhism, celebrate this tradition is interesting, the only difference between them is their reason for doing it. In all places the main object is to trade in the traditional kumade (熊手, or bear’s hand) decoration pieces, sometimes as small as 500 yen coin, and sometimes big enough to cover a small wall, there are all kinds of kumade and all the traders take great pride in displaying as much of their wares as possible. The basic form of the kumade comes from the humble garden rake, and the kumade is said to symbolize the raking in of health, happiness and health. It is traditional for local business to buy one each year to display in their shops. Whatever your belief is, the magic of the kumade actually works as it attracts customers. I personally always stop in front of a shop displaying a good kumade, giving the proprietor of the shop a chance to wheel me in and make a sale. The tradition is always buy a larger kumade than last year, so if you plan on following the tradition I would recommend starting out as small as possible, even though the sly tradesmen will always try to sell you their biggest!

The torinohi is counted using the old sexagenary system, where each cycle has twelve days, so in every year there will be two or three cycle endings. It is said traditionally that years with three torinohi in November are especially prone to house fires so sales of kumade with additional fire prevention prayers stuck to it increases. This is one of those years, and the third torinohi this year is on the 27th.

But today is also Tokyobling’s blog’s 5th year anniversary! The first post was on November 15th 2008. Time really does fly. I didn’t mean for it to become a daily job though. When I started I was inspired by the Boston Globe’s blog, The Big Picture which was started in May 2008 by Alan Taylor. The Big Picture is easily one of the best news sites in the world and very significant in the way news media has evolved online since then. The idea behind the blog was to tell news and stories through big images, with little or no text. Taylor was a web guy who was not satisfied with how the newspaper he worked for used photography online, so he started the blog on his own initiative. I could relate to that as I was in very much the same situation, seeing a lot of gorgeous images coming in and then being cut down so small that they hardly mattered in online news media. I was also reading a lot about photography online and I was very unhappy with the way so many talented photographers felt the need to diminish their work by reducing it in size and load the images with their names and watermarks and logos in an attempt to combat online image theft. I decided that I could do better than that by using the example of The Big Picture blog and post large images without useless copyright notices or logos inside them (people will steal your images no matter what you do if they are good enough to be stolen). Back in 2008 an image being 1200 x 798 pixels (my standard size, but only if you click them, the actual display is much smaller: I couldn’t find a good WordPress theme to use back then) was plenty large enough but these days I feel that it is much too small. Ideally someday I would like to find the time (and the skills needed…) to revamp the blog and start posting much larger, full size images at about 4000 x 2400 pixels or similar. Sure, it would be much more work, since I can hide quite a lot photographical errors by reducing images in size (soft photos, bad focusing, etc.) but I think it would be useful in the end, for me and for the viewer, you.

You can read more about the philosophy behind the blog at my About page. Now, let’s get on with working towards the 10 year anniversary in 2018!

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Torinoichi at Hanazono Shrine

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on November 5, 2013

The third of November was the first of the traditional Torinochi market taking place in shrines (and some temples) all over Japan. Not all shrines have this but some do and it is quite spectacular. The two most well known Torinoichi markets in Tokyo is the one at Asakusa and the one that I visited here in Shinjuku, at the Hanazono Shrine. The shrine has three entrances but most people use the smallest entrance, through an alley between two large buildings. It is easy to spot during a festival but can be tricky to find on a normal day. On festival days the alley is lined with street stalls and packed full of people. I took these photos as I headed towards the main shrine in the afternoon.

One of the odder snacks on sale this time was the Noshiika, a dried and often marinated or pickled squid that has been rolled through a flat press to create a slightly more chewable and more aromatic eating experience, best to go together with a cup (or several of your favorite sake). The other fun find was one of the mandatory plastic mask dealers, they had several series or variations that I have never seen before. Either I am late to the game or some of these masks will be big sellers in the coming festival season, the summer of 2014! More photos of the colorful market and the shrine itself, after dark, to come!

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