This Saturday Tokyo was practically saturated with festivals. There were too many to even consider trying to see more than a few of them. On Saturday evening I visit the bigger than expected Nebuta Matsuri at Sakurashinmachi. The Nebuta festival is the most famous cultural export out of Aomori Prefecture up north, one of the most all-in festivals of the country with huge paper sculptures lit from within, thousands of dancers in what at first looks like a mosh pit at a punk festival, huge drums and a very addictive flute melody that tends to get itself stuck in your mind for days. In other words, great fun! Aomori prefecture is very far from Tokyo so there are quite a few festivals around Tokyo bringing Aomori to the city rather than the other way around.
Sakurashinmachi is famous for two things, horses and Sazaesan, the massively popular long running animated TV show featuring a multi-generational family living in this town. So over half of the Nebuta decorations are Sazaesan-themed and very popular with the kids! It is easy to get here, by the Denentoshi Line connecting with the Hanzomon Subway line in Shibuya. More photos to come!
Nothing suits a Japanese dog more than a bit of Japanese festival fashion! This young dog was a hit with all the photographers at the annual Kitazwahachiman Matsuri last week but didn’t seem to mind the attention one bit. I can’t keep a dog myself but if I did I’m afraid he would look something like this!
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!
If you are in Tokyo today you can do worse that to visit one of the three festivals in either Kiba, Jiyugaoka or this one, in Shimokitazawa’s Kitazawa Hachimangu Grand Shrine. Yesterday was the opening, with religious ceremonies and plenty of performances of traditional (and some not so traditional) arts and dances at the shrine’s Kagura, or “holy stage”. We luckily dodged the rain that plagued last year’s festival and hopefully we’ll be as lucky today as well! The festival continues tonight with omikoshi, lots more people and lots more performances!
There were many visitors dressed in Yukata, the traditional summer dress here in Japan, and one of them even had the cutest uchiwa I have ever seen, like a little cat.