On Sunday I visited the annual Omikoshi parade at Yokohama City’s Isezakicho main street, near Kannai station. It is not a normal festival in that there is no shrine actually sponsoring it, instead omikoshi from various shrines in the areas are gathered for one massive three and half hour parade down the street. There was supposed to be 18 of them, but I only saw 16 I think, or I might have missed counting a couple in the confusion! Despite this being the rainy season the weather was merciless; hot and a blazing sun!
The most interesting thing for us tokyoites is the peculiar Shonan area style of shouldering the omikoshi, the Dokkoi. These omikoshi use only two long poles rather than the Edo style which is four poles, and a much sturdier construction. Many of these also have a “box” under section, with massive metal handles being slammed rhythmically against the hollow box sides making for a massive din. Unlike the Edo style common in Tokyo the omikoshi here do not swing from side to side, but rather up and down.
Many of the teams are accompanied by a singer calling out the rhythmical cadence style folk singing, the jinku. I love this melody and it is a special pleasure to follow the teams with the best singers!
On a lovely back street well shaded with trees in the middle of Chiyoda ward is the tiny Otahime Inari Shrine (太田姫稲荷神社). Founded in Edo (Old Tokyo) in 1457, there are various interpretation to its colorful name (Princess Ota Shrine). According to one legend, the name comes from the noble Ota Doukan (太田道灌) whose daughter very nearly died in a smallpox epidemic sometime in the 15th century. Ota Doukan prayed at the Imoaraiinari shrine for her and everyone else dying in smallpox and miraculously saved her life. To honor the Gods Ota Doukan founded this shrine within the grounds of the old (the first) Edo Castle. After Edo was made the capital the shrine was moved to a new location within the New Edo Castle, in 1606, on a spot right in front of the east exit of Ochanomizu JR station today (you can still find the old tree that marks the center of the shrine). In 1872, the shrine was renamed Sonsha (I think) by order of the government but the shrine was completely destroyed in the fires following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and rebuilt in 1931, only to be moved once again to its present spot to make room for the new railway line. This time it got its old name back though!
These days it celebrates its main festival in mid May, and is a popular shrine with local businesses and corporations, as most of its parish is now office buildings and shops.
Lots of festivals recently but I can’t really help myself from keep posting them! Summer is the great festival season of Japan and here in Tokyo you really are spoilt for choices, especially if you don’t mind spending a couple of hours on the train getting out of the city! One of my favorite “near Tokyo” festivals is the grand Narita Gionsai, where the rather huge dashi of the city are pulled up and down the narrow – and very steep! – streets of Narita Old Town! The festival is next month and quite famous, it will be hard to miss if you are in the area.
One of my favorite parts of the festival is when the dashi pass on of the traditional inns of Narita Old Town, and the guests on the upper floors dangle out donations of cash on long fishing rods! The men on the roofs of the dashi do their best to catch them. I have only visited this festival once and am not so familiar with the whys and the wherefores of this aspect of the festival, but it looks fun!
The Grand Kanda Myojin, the Greatest of all shrines in Tokyo is actually a conglomerate of several smaller shrines surrounding it. One of these shrines is the original Edo Shrine, and naturally their omikoshi (portable shrine) that carries the shrine gods is one of the biggest and most splendid in the capital. At the Kanda Matsuri it is taken out once every two years and as it enters the shrine precinct for the last time on the last evening, three men ride it in order to guide it properly to the priests waiting. The entrance of this omikoshi into the shrine is maybe the most eagerly awaited points of the festival, as over 200 locals guide carry it forward, not all at the same time, but naturally everyone wants to take part in this honorable endeavor so there is a lot of jostling to get the coveted places under the omikoshi!
As I watched several people around me were arguing whether one, two or maybe all three of them would fall of this year, as sometimes happen – the ride is everything but smooth! But one woman in the audience near us quieted everyone with a sharp “Hush you fools – no one is falling off this year!” And as you can see it turned out she was completely correct.
Being underneath even a small omikoshi is terrifying, but this one is huge! I can only imagine how scary it must be to be on top! Most of this omikoshi was made in Tokyo in 1958, but some parts have come all the way from Osaka. Both workshops are the most prestigious omikoshi makers in the country.