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!
I took these photos on the first day of the big Kitazawa Hachiman Shrine festival a few weeks ago. Usually the kids have their own little omikoshi procession before the adult’s, but in this festival the kids omikoshi went out together with the adult’s, the little one before the big one. These kids even had matching hasten, traditional half coats that used to be worn by all city people, traders, public officials and crafts people all over Japan. This is the perfect way to build community and foster traditions, having the kids taking part and taking responsibility for their own, right next to the adults.
The shrine itself is a little bit out of the way but the area around Shimokitazawa station is considered by many to be one of the hippest areas of Tokyo. Well worth a visit even for the casual tourist coming to Tokyo!
Most of the branches of Kagura dance (the ritualistic dances and performances you see performed at native Japanese shrines and festivals as well as the imperial court) are ancient, many have been performed so long that their roots disappear well into mythological times. One branch however, the Urayasu dance (浦安の舞) of the Mikokagura (Kagura performed by shrine maidens, miko), is an absolute newcomer, having only started in 1940. In order to celebrate the 2600 year anniversary of the imperial lineage (this number is controversial among historians since many of the earlier emperors are considered semi-mythological) it was decided that shrine maidens all over the country (including the ones in Taiwan and Korea) should perform a ceremonial dance to be known as Urayasu. “Ura” is the ancient Japanese word for heart, and “Yasu” is one of the ancient terms used to name the country (I think). On November 10th at 10:00 all shrines performed this ceremony simultaneously. The tradition of the dance has lived on since then, but it is now performed during regular festivals at any time during the year. The costumes are some of the most complicated and it is only in recent years that shrines have been able to raise the money to make enough costumes so that even very young dancers can wear them. I saw these young girls (maybe 11 years old?) perform the Urayasu at the Nezu shrine festival a couple of weeks ago, and the costumes looked a bit too large for them! There are some items associated to the dance, the bough, the bells and the blade, all purely ceremonial of course.
Some of the larger shrines sometimes have Mikokagura performances during wedding ceremonies, and some miko usually dress up in these costumes for parades, but if you have the chance to see a properly performed Urayasu dance, take it! They are not all that common!