Last night was the annual Tourounagashi (灯篭流し) ceremony at the huge Sensoji temple in Tokyo’s Asakusa district. It takes place during Obon, which is the traditional time for Japanese people to tend their ancestral graves, remember the relatives who came before them and pray and give offerings to their ancestors. At the temple, the Tourounagashi ceremony is part of that tradition and buddhist monks chant over the ceremony as lay people let painted paper lanterns slide into Sumida river, carrying prayers for peace and rest for their deceased loved ones. Even deceased pets can be honored in this way. The ceremony in Tokyo is not very big, the more famous ones are held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as Obon coincides with the a-bomb remembrances over there. Other famous ones are held in Fukui, Kyoto, Niigata and Yokohama.
Not to worry about pollution and littering, this being Japan all the lanterns are collected as the are carried by the wind along the river by volunteer boat teams making sure not to add to the trash in the river. Speaking of trash, in the years I have lived in Tokyo the river has actually become markedly cleaner. I see less garbage and more birds in the river than before.
The quay from which the lanterns were launched were packed with people so I had to be content with staying up on the embankment. Maybe next time I’ll join the people offering lanterns and prayers.
As a bonus, one photo of the always magnificent Kaminariom, the huge paper lantern under the gate leading to Sensoji temple. Enjoy!
Japan has two very famous artists of the classical era, one is well known by name to most foreigners, Hokusai, and the other might not be famous by name but almost everyone with an interest in Japanese art has seen his pictures, Hiroshige. Born in 1797 in Yaesu (in what is know the area east to Tokyo station) in family of samurai firefighters (this blog never tires of the firefighting theme!) he showed a remarkable talent in art from a young age. He was only 12 when his father died and he had to take over the hereditary responsibilities of the firefighter. This didn’t stop him from studying under a couple of masters and by the age of 36 he started publishing his most famous work The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō (1833–1834) which is probably the most famous series of Japanese prints in history, closely followed by his later One Hundred Famous Views of Edo (1856–1858). A few of these famous views of Edo have been put up on the side of Sumida river near Kuramaebashi. It is easy to imagine what a huge obstacle the river must have been in the old days, too broad to bridge easily, too fast flowing for easy ferrying by boat and too prone to flooding in the rainy seasons. The Sumida river we have today, and the concrete and steel bridges, are completely different. If you have time and are interested in art and history, it is quite fun to walk around Tokyo with Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, and see what remains and what has changed.
I took these photos last weekend while walking along the river near Asakusabashi. The yellow train crossing the river is the Sobu line train、200m long.
The last of my photos from the Sumida river walk last week! Asakusa has really gotten a facelift recently, especially with the perfectly placed tall tourism building opposite the famous Kaminarimon, a perfect way point for any tour of Asakusa and especially a good place to get a little bit of rest before heading into the temple complex with its beautifully lit temple buildings. Especially if you are lucky enough to get interesting skies like I did!
Here’s the second part of last weeks walk along Tokyo’s central Sumida River with the famous Asahi Building and the distinctive golden shape on top that despite what it sometimes look like is a “flamme d’or”! Turning right before the building you’ll reach the wide Azumabashi and crossing the river will take you to Tokyo’s premier tourist attraction, Asakusa, which just keeps getting better and better.