More photos from the Oiran parade in Tokyo’s Asakusa district last weekend. I have been going for a few years now and this year the crowd was the biggest yet. Maybe word is getting out? There is a far bigger parade with several orian in Kitashinagawa every year that has far fewer people. I guess Asakusa is just better branded than Kitashinagawa (although Kitashinagawa also lays claim to some great Godzilla fame!). The day was sunny and the crowds wild. At the end of the parade I got a chance to sneak up in front and get some group photos of the main participants just before they turned around and went to their temporary headquarters in a nearby school. I love the face one of the young assistants to the oiran is making in one of the photos, she must have had an itchy nose!
The orian have a very special way of walking, as in every third step they take they sweep their feet very low in a wide arc, difficult to catch in photos but it looks quite spectacular and is unique as far as I know. You can tell from their three-pronged (remember that normal Japanese shoes have two prongs while monks and tengu have one!) shoes and the way they are scratched bare how low they go in that special step.
Saturday saw the annual Oiran revival parade through the streets of northern Asakusa, complete with fox dancers, one oiran and a number of geisha and various retainers and servants. The parade is just a reenactment of customs that were considered quaint and old fashioned even in the mid Edo-period (18th century). The location of the parade is not a coincidence, as it takes place a couple of blocks south of the old walled city within the city, the famous Yoshiwara district of Asakusa which was one of Tokyo’s most talked about pleasure or red light districts. Today absolutely nothing remains of the old Yoshiwara itself though except parts of the old street pattern. People today associate Yoshiwara with the old sex industry but in fact Yoshiwara was also home of comedians, professional story tellers and the 18th century equivalent of avant garde fashion houses.
The weather on this sunny Saturday was fantastic and I took plenty of photos, here are a first bunch, with more to come later on.
If you are in Tokyo today I can recommend a visit to the huge Sensoji temple in Asakusa to see the rather unique and beautiful white egret dancers – Shirasaginomai (白鷺の舞). Local children together with musicians and performers from the large Yasaka shrine in Kyoto perform in the ceremony that was only revived in 1968 using an old scroll from 1652 as basis for the dance itself.
I took these photos of one of the more popular tourist destinations in Tokyo on Midnight eve last year, just as the stores and the fishmongers were closing down I was stopped by a phalanx of guardmen advancing down the street followed by a veritable armada or convoy of garbage trucks. The Ameyokocho is famous for its incredible high turnover shopping and it is packed to its limits with people most of the day and now I finally got to see what happens at closing time when all the garbage needs to be cleared up. It was beautifully choreographed and over in a matter of minutes. With the crew of trucks, the drivers and the guards clearing the way ahead there must have been well over 50 people sweeping down on each narrow street, clearing up small mountains of garbage in one fell swoop.
Garbage disposal in central Tokyo with its population of between 13 and 15 million people (depending on the time of the day) is a massive undertaking. The majority of all household garbage is sorted and recycled while strict rules handle industrial and construction waste. The burnable garbage collected is incinerated and creates heat, electricity and material for the many landfill projects ongoing in the capital. It has been calculated that if the waste material was not burned but simply dumped into Tokyo bay the the entire bay would be filled in less than a century at the current pace. Moving all of this material to somewhere less populated and then burning it is an impossible project. There is nowhere within a couple of hours drive from central Tokyo that is not as densely populated as London! Hence there are waste disposal plants scattered all over the city with state of the art emissions control. The plants have gotten around the “not in my backyard mentality” by incorporating free sports and pool facilities providing plenty of incentives for neighborhood to host these plants.
Air quality in Tokyo is generally good to excellent, much better than in many small town and cities in Europe. In spring however the air usually turns quite bad as pollution with a poetic sense of justice drifts over from China. Since so much of the pollution comes from producing goods that are actually used by the people of Tokyo.
But apart from the well thought out garbage collection in Ameyokocho the area is hugely popular with residents and tourists alike for it old time feel and the bargains to be had. It is also great fun to listen to the banter and the peculiar dialects of the fishmongers as they compete for customer attention at the top of their voices. It is a marvel any of these men still have vocal cords at all! The last few photos are from the main street of Ueno as you escape Ameyokocho just to the south. And I could not not share this photo of the statue of Saigo Takamori walking his dog.
Oh, and this happens to be the 1900th post online right now (not including the posts I have deleted along the way). Maybe I will hit 2000 posts sometime in August this year?