We had a couple of typhoons pass Japan in the last few day, not close enough to close us down but close enough to bring rain and slightly chilly weather (even below 20 degrees celsius). Yesterday’s festivals and event were pretty gloomy in the steady drizzle so instead of visiting a lof of festivals I took these photos passing through Shibuya’s Center Street district. I’ve noticed that not many people bother to take photos outside when it is raining, so I figured I should give it a shot. Japanese people are usually very careful about not getting wet in the rain so umbrellas come up for much slighter rains than in many other countries.
During the years I have lived here in Tokyo I have noticed that Shibuya is getting denser and denser, with taller buildings, more signs, more neon lights and billboards, and more and more people. In these photos you’ll see a Shibuya that is by normal standards for a Saturday evening, almost deserted! More photos to come!
Easily the best thing about the festivals, that part which strike me hardest, is the way that the festivals take precedence over everything else. There are no city officials, no policmen, just the local community coming together and enacting the rites of their fathers and father’s fathers before them, and so on, for as long as people have lived in this area (in this case, over 900 years). The omikoshi of Maruyamacho (円山町) stopped traffic and commandeered the streets in their procession through the heart of modern and commercial Shibuya. It was great to see everything stopping around them as they made their way to the big scramble street crossing in front of Shibuya station. I walk these streets often and it’s good to see the connection between the hyper modern fashion sensitive Shibuya and the ancient folk traditions and religions of the local community.
The standard garment for any festival in Japan is the hanten (半纏), a lose coat worn on top of almost anything. Some them are huge, of lose material and favored by for example yosakoi dancers, some are very hard and tightly woven with large threads and fire resistant, the perfect body armor for firefighters. The standard hanten though, can be of almost any material. Some people go ahead and get personalized collars that they attach to their hanten, usually with their personal names or family names and sometimes family crests or club allegiance or official titles. In this case, it is a small crest of Shibuya above the name. On the back of the hanten, you’ll usually find the sedaimon or semon which is usually the crest or symbol of the neighborhood or association. Hanten also make nice souvenirs, especially if you are into antique ones, usually very small.
This weekend we had the first typhoon of the season in passing over Tokyo. Usually we would have had several by this time of of the year, but this year has been very very quiet. Unfortunately several festivals were cancelled due to the heavy rains, we did get some nice skies thanks to the strong winds. As I headed back to Shibuya station at sundown I took these photos of the forever-construction yard next to the station, and the massive Hikarie building to the east of the station. The last photo is of course, the famous Scramble Street Crossing, which in my opinion is now the heart of Tokyo, possibly the biggest street crossing in the world, in terms of people using it every day.
Every year at the big Konouhachimangu Festival being held all over Shibuya we are also treated with a mini guest performance by the massive Nebuta festival from Aomori Prefecture up to the northern end of Japan’s main Honshu island. The nebuta decorations in this festival is far smaller than the ones used in the real event, but still very colorful and popular with both tourists and locals. Accompanying the decorations are a few busloads of local Aomori braves from the Aomori University. They must be from the sports department or something as they are all bigger than the average Shibuya guys! A few of them started the festival by somersaulting and backflipping their way down the street! It was very impressive. Another funny happening was when all the young guys passing me stopped what they were doing and just stared and pointed to something next to me. I turned and looked and found a tourist, one of the most beautiful young western women I have seen in Tokyo. She looked quite embarrassed as she was absolutely interfering with the festival by just being there (see photos 6 and 7 from the bottom)!
All in all, the festival was quite a bit of fun and it must have surprised the people pouring out of the busy Shibuya JR station to find the Nebuta festival right in front of the station main exit! I am already looking forward to next year!