The grand festival at the Kitazawa Hachimangu near Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa district is one of my favorites of the “larger” smaller festivals. There are so many things to see and lots of performances and some very very dedicated local people taking part in the festival. I took these photos in black and white at last year’s festival. This year’s festival is coming up in September!
At last year’s Kitazawa Hachimangu Matsuri (festival) in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward I saw one of the most ancient forms of ritual court dances, the Kochonomai, or butterfly dance. It probably arrived to Japan from Korea in the 8th century and has been completely unaltered ever since. The dance is performed by four or eight maidens (which in modern days usually means children) with colorful costumes performing a ritual dance symbolizing the seasons. In their hands they hold branches of the Yamabuki (Kerria japonica), a rose relative that is native to Japan, Korea and China.
Japan has somehow managed to preserve many of their earliest rituals and ceremonies and for the average person, over a millennium removed, they can be difficult to understand. I will have to study this more, but in the meantime, we can just enjoy the colorful dresses and the wonderful tradition of the dances and music!
The grand torii of the Itsukushima Shrine is one of the many reasons that Hiroshima’s Miyajima Island is considered one of the top tourist attractions of Japan (in my opinion, even maybe the top attraction). At high tide the torii sits seemingly in the middle of the ocean but on low tide the water recedes and you can easily walk right up to it.
This torii was designed not to be anchored to the ground, it actually remains in place just by its own weight which makes it more or less earth quake proof. During high tide many tourist boats pass through ut and I as is customary people like to offer money to the gate. At low tide the money becomes visible in droves underneath the gate, in some places it piles up in droves. Still, to pick anything up or remove any of the money would be big no-no, so most people leave it alone where it is.
It was raining during most of my visit and together with this being a weekday afternoon meant that there were quite few other tourists during my visit. I even managed to meet one of the many wild deer out for a stroll later in the afternoon after the school kids and tourists had left.
One morning in Hiroshima I visited the famous Toshogu shrine (広島東照宮) located not too far from the north exit of Hiroshima Station. The rains was absolutely pouring down and I had a hard time keeping myself and my camera dry so please excuse the poor quality of the photos. There are plenty of Toshogu shrines all over Japan and they all enshrine the same spirit, the fist Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu (1543-1616). The most famous being the one in Nikko north of Tokyo. The Hiroshima Toshogu was built in 1648 to commemorate the great shogun who unified Japan. One of the main ceremonies of this shrine was the festival thrown every 50 years to commemorate the shogun. However, in the late 19th century the shogun dynasty fell and the festival was cancelled. In 1989 it was revived as a trial and the next festival will be in 2015, back on schedule. If you miss this one, you will have to wait until 2065 for the next!
Toshogu is built on the hillside overlooking Hiroshima city. The main shrine is located below a series of little shrines and holy places connected by a hill trail from the back of the main shrine. It was too wet and slippery for me to explore so I only went to see the first of the small hill shrines, but next time I visit I will see them all!
The shrine is 2.1km from the center of the blast of the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. The blast wave pulverized a stone torii (shrine gate) and blew most of the roofs off. The buildings that survived the blast are permanently tilted to the north to this day. Most of the main building however survived as a small detachment of the 2nd Army Signal Corps who were stationed in the shrine on that day. The soldiers fought the fires and then set up a first aid station to receive the wounded civilians who started coming in after the blast. The badly wounded were sent further on to a nearby temple while the walking wounded stayed for treatment. On the day after the blast the Hiroshima post office (which is now just to the south of Hiroshima station) relocated to this shrine. One of the people who came to this shrine for treatment was the writer Tamiki Hara 原民喜, 1905-1951) who wrote the famous novel Natsu no Hana (Summer Flowers) based on his experiences of the bombing. The shrine was finally rebuilt in 1965 but one of the losses of the was was the line of cherry blossom trees leading up to the temple.