If you have ever been to Enoshima you know that the main street running through the little town is absolutely tiny, not even bicycles make it up it. So it was quite fun to see the big Omikoshi make its way down the stairs, through gates and under torii (the π shaped gates in front of shinto shrines) and finally down the main street, pushing tourists, shoppers and townspeople aside as it passed down towards the ocean. I was lucky enough to know a shortcut in a tiny alley to the side of the main street so I could hurry around the omikoshi and get a few photos of it as it emerged onto the plaza in front of the fist torii. More photos to come!
Enoshima, a small but tall and very rocky island on the south coast of Kanagawa prefecture south west of Tokyo has been a holy spot for a very long time. The first record of a shrine or temple on this island is from the year 552 A.D., which is when the present Shrines on the island counts as they having been founded. During the years a number of holy buildings and caves have been added to the island, all being headed under the name Enoshima Shrine, whose main building Hetsunomiya was erected in 1206, rebuilt in 1675 and renovated in 1976 and is famous for its undulating three waved roof.
A couple of weekends ago the shrine’s Yasaka Shrine (Yasaka Jinja) section celebrated its annual festival and I was there in the morning to see the Omikoshi dedication ceremony attended by many officials of the island the neighboring towns. The ceremony at the shrine was finished with a parade of shamisen players, drummers, singers and flutists, just before the omikoshi was handed over to the men of the town to be carried down to the ocean. More photos of this to come!
The second day of the famous Mitama Matsuri at the Yasukuni Shrine in central Tokyo we were treated to the always colorful, and loud, Nebuta dancers. This festival which is traditional in northern Japan makes a few guest appearances here and there in Tokyo throughout the year, the giant paper sculpture floats are always a hit with the audience and the peculiar rhythm and chanting is fun to listen to. If you have a chance this year, go to see the other much bigger Nebuta celebrations in and around Tokyo later this summer!
The Mitama matsuri was quite peculiar this year, without the usual food stalls and huge crowds it was much quieter and smoother than usual. Not bad in my opinion! It will certainly be interesting to hear the official evaluations form the shrine itself. The next big people’s festival at Yasukuni Shrine will be the New Year’s Celebrations in December 31st to the first few days of January.
On the north eastern corner of Chiba Prefecture, very close to Ibaraki Prefecture, you find the historic little city of Sawara (佐原市), about 100km east of Tokyo and 27km east of Narita Airport. The town grew into existence in the 17th century after one of the grand infrastructure programs of the first Tokugawa shogun Ieyasu came into fruition: the diversion of Tone river, the second longest river in Japan. Instead of flowing through Edo the 60 year program was to send the river east diverting it to the Pacific Ocean in northern Chiba. The new river turned the fertile land in the area into prime agricultural land while at the same time establishing the river as an express route for agricultural products from the north east to the center of Edo. The grand spot on the middle of one of the most important river trade routes of the country made turned the town rich and prosperous.
The town has managed to preserve some of the old merchant quarters and city canals from the Edo period almost as it was back then and it is now one of the three “Koedo” or Little-Edo towns in the Kanto area. One of the main tourist attractions is the boat ride through the city canal, which is surprisingly enjoyable for the shortness of the ride. The photos I took does absolutely not do justice to the canal, which is really quite pretty. Not very photogenic though. The boat rides are 500 yen and the the boats are tiny flat bottomed craft run by a group of tiny old men and ladies.
Sawara Station (佐原駅) itself is unusually pretty for a standard JR station and the old town is fun to walk around and explore with lots of tiny restaurants and historic sake breweries. Sawara is a bit over two hours on the train from Tokyo or about an hour and a half on the bus from Tokyo station.