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.
If you are in Tokyo today I recommend visiting the massive (but strangely local) Torigoe Matsuri in Tokyo’s Taito ward. It is one of the most concentrated festivals in the city and today is the main event with a comparatively huge omikoshi of the shrine being paraded around town beautifully lit up. I visited last week and took these photos of the shrine itself. It doesn’t look like much to the world but it is one of the oldest in the capital, having been founded in 651 A.D. It used to sit on a massive piece of land, over 6.5 hectares, but in the 17th century it lost a lot of land to the government that needed soil to use as landfill for the massive construction projects taking place in order to turn Edo from a large city to the capital of the nation. There even used to be a large hill of which nothing remains today, the whole area being about as flat a soccer field. Many of the buildings that made up the shrine were moved out to make two new shrines, one quite close in Kuramae and one about 10 minutes walk further north in Imado. I wish I had time to visit the festival tonight!
This spring has been incredibly cold, wet, windy and weird. Yesterday we had barely 6 degrees here in Tokyo and in Gunma and Tochigi prefectures there were plenty of snowfall. Something is wrong with the weather! But there has been a handful of good days, like this morning a couple of weeks ago when I happened to pass through the famous Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura city south of Tokyo. I didn’t have time to stop but I had my camera ready and just took the things I saw as I hurried through the grand shrine. If you visit Tokyo this shrine about an hour’s train ride away is one of the must sees! I have been here so many times I rarely find anything new these days but I found a new ema design that I hadn’t seen before, one with a ginkgo tree image to commemorate the great gingko tree that blew down in the morning March 10th 2011 (which some people later recognized as a bad omen). The tree was 30m tall and about 1000 years old and it’s going to be awhile until the new tree planted near the old tree stump will grow to be anything like it’s predecessor.
More photos of last weeks torch festival at the Kameidoten. This time of the main procession involving local kids and adults carrying lit torches along the grounds of the shrine. There were plenty of firefighters on alert and following the procession with water tanks to put out any embers and sparks. The shrine has a very unusual layout with two very steep bridges over a large central pond, surrounded by wisteria plantations. At summer or during daylight it looks almost like someone built a grape plantation in the middle of court yard. I would have loved to take part in a festival like this when I was a kid, imagine carrying around one of those huge torches! Fortunately they kept them pointing downwards, for safety.