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!
The other day I had a little time over to just walk around Shinjuku after dark. The day ends so quickly and suddenly these days, I had been hoping to catch the golden hour light but in November it is more like the Golden 10 minutes. I walked from the west station exit area to the south, and over to the east side. The seventh photo is of the new Keio Bus Travel center, a must spot for budget travelers around Japan. Personally I would use it every weekend if I could only sleep on long distance buses. Alas I can’t so I usually end up going with the four times as expensive shinkansen bullet trains. The following photo (the eighth) is of the Starbucks on Southern Terrace, in what has to be one of the best Starbucks locations on Earth. In the photo it looks all dark and cold and isolated but in real life it is actually a quite cozy and fantastically interesting spot if you are into people watching.
Shinjuku is probably the capital of Tokyo both in name and in spirit and a bit more mature than youthful Shibuya while not as conservative as the Tokyo area Marunouchi, Yaesu). I also hold Shinjuku as one of the must see spots for casual tourists to Japan, not least because it is within walking distance of the Tokyo Metropolitan government office viewing platforms. Some day I must really publish that tourist guidebook I have written, presently just gathering digital dust on one of my many hard disks.
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!