The portable shrines you’ll see at most Japanese festival, the omikoshi, aren’t that heavy in themselves, usually the logs or poles that the omikoshi is carried upon weighs far more. The whole set can vary between 500-4500kg. Naturally the big ones are not suitable for kids so instead the local children are given miniature omikoshi to practice. At the Kurayami Matsuri in Tokyo’s Fuchu City I saw these mini-omikoshi being carried around town by the local kids. It was really difficult to get any decent photos, not only did I have to adjust for the glaring sun playing hide and seek between clouds, but also the kids were fast, almost running! They had crossed over the first main gate of the shrine into the inner courtyard in less than half a minute. Fuchu kids really take after their parents. The heart of the Kurayami festival is the historical Okunitama Shrine, consecrated in the year 111 A.D. The beautiful gate you see in the background though was rebuilt in 2011 A.D. and still smells of fresh wood!
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.
There are few things more photogenic than fire, so my camera shutter was really going warm when I visited the Shinkisai, the spring, or torch, festival at the Kameidoten Shrine. Here are some more photos from just before the procession starts outside the shrine. More photos to come! There are also very few festival in spring compared to summer and autumn, so I am making the most of the festivals I can actually visit this this time of the year. If you know of any cool festival anywhere in the country in April, please let me know in the comments!