At last weeks budo tournament in Tokyo’s Meijijingu grand shrine I saw this procession of archers making their way from the shrine ceremony to the archery, kyudo, range or dojo. There had been a big tournament and hundreds of archers had been ranked and tested. Unfortunately as much as I wanted I wasn’t able to gain access to the archery range itself. Maybe next year! They are wearing ceremonial clothes and carrying shrine ornaments and holy bows. Of course I couldn’t help myself from taking snapping a photo of a little boy eager to test his running skills next to the procession. Don’t worry, his mother was right behind him!
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.
In Tokyo’s Taito ward you’ll find the little Kuramae Shrine (蔵前神社). With the main entrance in front of a convenience store and a smaller entrance next to a Sushi restaurant, it might not look like much, but it has a nice festival to its name and is famous through the traditional storytelling, rakugo, theme of a white dog that really wanted to became a human and got his wish through praying at this shrine. The dog is now represented by a statue on the temple grounds. The original model of the statue is a 4 year old Hokkaido breed, Nana.
I went there on the morning of a festival and saw the priest prepare the white slips of papers where the sponsors of the festival are shown. I also saw the beautifully-retro designed map of the route of the shrine omikoshi, probably made back in the days when anything important enough to be printed was also important enough to be printed well.
The shrine is also closely associated to sumo wrestling, one of the reasons being that here in Kuramae was the site of the main wrestling arena from 1950 to 1984. Professional sumo wrestling was officially transformed into a sport in 1684, at the Tomioka Hachimangu of which this shrine is a part.