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.
This Saturday Tokyo was practically saturated with festivals. There were too many to even consider trying to see more than a few of them. On Saturday evening I visit the bigger than expected Nebuta Matsuri at Sakurashinmachi. The Nebuta festival is the most famous cultural export out of Aomori Prefecture up north, one of the most all-in festivals of the country with huge paper sculptures lit from within, thousands of dancers in what at first looks like a mosh pit at a punk festival, huge drums and a very addictive flute melody that tends to get itself stuck in your mind for days. In other words, great fun! Aomori prefecture is very far from Tokyo so there are quite a few festivals around Tokyo bringing Aomori to the city rather than the other way around.
Sakurashinmachi is famous for two things, horses and Sazaesan, the massively popular long running animated TV show featuring a multi-generational family living in this town. So over half of the Nebuta decorations are Sazaesan-themed and very popular with the kids! It is easy to get here, by the Denentoshi Line connecting with the Hanzomon Subway line in Shibuya. More photos to come!
Touristing in Tokyo in the summer means that you have a fairly decent chance of seeing at least a handful of festivals, especially on the weekends. Tokyo has it’s own share of huge famous festivals but even if you don’t have the time to visit the larger festivals of other parts of the country, if you are lucky, they might come to you! The famous Nebuta festival has a pretty large appearance in the western Tokyo city of Tachikawa every year, where I took these photos of locals and guests from up north handling the huge drums and paper figure floats.
To get to Tachikawa it is just a simple train ride on the central Chuo Line going straight through Tokyo, and the festival spot is a 10-15 minutes walk or a single stop on the Nambu line, to Nishikunitachi Station, and then 5 minutes walking.
Even though days are pretty long in the Tokyo summer, as the sun sets it gets harder and harder to balance the light of the floats and the people around them in your photographs. As it gets pitch black you just have to make a choice of which one to light for. Here’s a few of my favorites from the very start of the festival! Enjoy!
The Three day Nebuta festival each year takes place after dark so that you can really enjoy the huge paper sculptures paraded through town lit up from inside. It also makes it very dark and difficult to photograph the musicians and dancers wildly spinning and jumping behind the two drum teams. I really had to push to get these photos! It is a mystery how they can dance like that for three hours in over 33 degrees heat and high humidity. The actual Nebuta festival was held in the beginning of this month in the northern Aomori prefecture. Some day I want to go and see the real thing! I can’t believe how lucky we are here in Tokyo though, all these great festivals come to our city!
Can you spot the little bells attached to the dancers costumes? They make a lot of noise and the more devoted dancers are practically covered in bells. Enterprising kids spend the festival darting in and out of the dance groups picking up the bells that inevitably fall of the dancers while you can get packets of bells from street vendors for 500 yen per bag! It must take a lot of time to sew them all on though. More photos to come!