A lot of people assume that Japan invented the super cute characters but although they do excel at it today, there were quite a few early inspirations for Japan and some of them are of nearly legendary status by now. One of the most famous characters in Japan would be Miffy, the little rabbit created by Dick Bruna in the Netherlands 60 years ago. To celebrate the little Rabbit reaching the very advance middle aged stage, the equally famous Mitsukoshi Department store put on a Miffy art exhibition, and they also took the opportunity to play a little with the departments store exterio. Can you spot Miffy?
The exhibition is now over here in Tokyo but apparently on its way to Aomori Prefecture in the North of Japan, should you be a Miffy fan in the area!
The great Tokyo Sanja Matsuri festival is a multi day event but the main days are the Saturday and the Sunday. This year the weather was not quite optimal for the Satuday which meant a little calmer a festival than usual but on Sunday the Sun was back with a vengeance and the weather as well as the festival were in excellent moods. Here are a few more snapshots, with no special meaning other than that I like them, taken around the Kaminarimon gate in front of the grand Sensoji temple in Asakusa.
The most famous aspect of Japan’s many festivals are without a doubt the gloriously decorated Omikoshi, the portable shrines that house the gods and get taken out for a spin around the parish during festival days. The often weigh as much as a ton and are often shouldered by a couple of dozen of the strongest and most enthusiastic people belonging to the shrine or neighborhood it represents so you can imagine that stopping one of these one it gets started can be a tricky business. A round around the neighborhood means plenty of stops and starts, and during the famous Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo’s Asakusa district one of the most important stops of them all is in front of the grand Kaminari gate! I happened to be just in front of the three headsmen of the omikoshi, as they stood on top the uma, the wooden posts where the omikoshi rests temporarily after stopping. Their job is to guide the omikoshi into the right position for the stop, and to signal the carriers to correct their course, speed up, slow down, revers or turn. Nobody much listens so it is the job of several lieutenants on the sides to steer and guide the omikoshi as it approaches the uma and the headsman. As I stood waiting the omikoshi made three attempts to approach the uma, twice coming up too far to the left or to the right and once nearly ramming the uma and the three headsmen, forcing them to hang on for dear life. As the omikoshi finally made it onto the uma the three headsmen were pulled backwards by assistants just in time to avoid falling or being squashed. At this point the headsmen usually stops to give a speech or accept a blessing from the local priests, but this being the Sanja matsuri and there being hundreds of omikoshi they barely had time to catch their breath before being ordered to go up and turn around again.
Watching all this is great is great fun but obviously there a is serious risk of injury if you get too close, and I took most of these photos without even looking at the omikoshi, being far more interested in checking that my back was free to escape if anything should come crashing towards me! I have never had to bolt so far but sooner or later!
Sanja Matsuri might be famous for its enthusiastic omikoshi crews, but this is still nothing compared to some festivals in Osaka where errant omikoshi has been known to literally go through house walls and cause irreparable damage to parked cars alone the procession route. Accidents happen almost every year, so be careful out there!
Summer is fast approaching and while outdoor temperatures are still tolerable even outdoors here in Tokyo, the days will soon be upon us when a lot of people will be stuck day and night to their air conditioners. The only thing I can recommend in those cases is to spend a little time and effort and try to get out of Tokyo. It is often forgotten that even Tokyo mostly consists of mountains and forests, so there is a lot of greenery around if you have the energy to find it. One of my favorites is taking the Ome line out to Sawanoi in Tokyo’s far western Town and walk along the beautiful Tama River. This far upstream it is still quite small, rapid and much cleaner than downstream, although the modern river is many hundreds of times cleaner than it was just 50-60 years ago. Today a lot of wildlife has returned to the river, enough even to support fishing of carp, trout, salmi, redfin and ayu. Not fished but still quite common in the river you may find turtles, crabs and crayfish. There was even a case a few years ago of a seal making its way up to the river, although never this far up!
In the summer the trees provide good shade, the slight breeze is usually cooled down over the broad river and there are plenty of spots where you can get down and put your feet in the cold water to cool down. Go early in the morning, bring a picknick or eat at one of the local places, and get some green in your life to substitute for all the Tokyo grey!