This year again, the famous Isetan department store in Shinjuku is putting on a christmas decorations campaign illustrated by Klaus Haapaniemi, the Finnish artist. Isetan and Haapaniemi has been collaborating for quite some time and the stories keep getting more and more elaborate, even with some recurring characters. This year the story seems to be more complicated and the interior decorations are as great as always. It is good to see that some department stores are not afraid to be different even during Christmas shopping season! I blogged about it in 2009. There is a site accompanying the decorations, complete with video and rather good song available for download.
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!
Noh is a form of Japanese theatre (some people call it Japanese opera) that has been practiced since the 14th century in more or less the same form. Despite being very archaic and often hard to understand it is still quite popular and many shrines put on special noh performances on the night leading up to the shrine festival or during the festival itself. Usually there are two or three actors on stage and a handful of musicians, some groups also sing or chant, whilst most of them seem to be silent these day, maybe in response to the often tumultuous and noisy festival going on around or near the noh stage. I think many westerners associate the expression “Japanese traditional art” with this particular form of theatre, but it is worthwhile to try and see it like the Japanese do: outside, on a hot summers evening surrounded by friends and neighbors. I saw this particular performance at the Hanazono Jinja (花園神社) on the night before their main festival day earlier this year.
The Hanazono shrine is one of the bigger in Shinjuku (an area many would say is the capital City of Tokyo), and it is often considered the patron shrine of entertainers, performers, musicians actors and even strippers hence it is popular with celebrities and people who want to become famous. It can be a little tricky to find as it is hidden among tall buildings but can find it easily by heading out of the east exit of Shinjuku station, walking straight north (yes the east exit actually leads you north) until you hit a very large four lane street. Cross it and turn right. Walk straight until you come to a big crossing, turn left and walk straight for just a little bit until you find the main entrance to the shrine to your left, and the large red torii gate. The shrine itself or the grounds it occupy is absolutely not the most attractive in Tokyo, but it’s is worth a visit if you are in the area and need to do something else than shopping. It’s also very close to the much more attractive Golden Gai, which you can access from the stairs at the back of the shrine.
I think one of the keywords of this summer will be squall. I have lost count of the numer of sudden (and often rather violent) rain storms we have had hit us here in Tokyo over the summer so far. Usually these squalls are not very welcome but they do manage to drop the temperatures quite a bit and after they have passed (usually after no more than 30 minutes) the air is almost bearable again. One Sunday afternoon in Shinjuku I took these photos as I had to take shelter in the opening of the huge Isetan department store. A lot of people were caught in the rain and even if you did have an umbrella you would have been soaked within seconds as the rain bounced up from the street underneath you. If things continue like this we will see a lot of thunder, lightning and interesting weather coming up! And to think we still have the typhoon season to look forward to!