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!
Every year at the big Konouhachimangu Festival being held all over Shibuya we are also treated with a mini guest performance by the massive Nebuta festival from Aomori Prefecture up to the northern end of Japan’s main Honshu island. The nebuta decorations in this festival is far smaller than the ones used in the real event, but still very colorful and popular with both tourists and locals. Accompanying the decorations are a few busloads of local Aomori braves from the Aomori University. They must be from the sports department or something as they are all bigger than the average Shibuya guys! A few of them started the festival by somersaulting and backflipping their way down the street! It was very impressive. Another funny happening was when all the young guys passing me stopped what they were doing and just stared and pointed to something next to me. I turned and looked and found a tourist, one of the most beautiful young western women I have seen in Tokyo. She looked quite embarrassed as she was absolutely interfering with the festival by just being there (see photos 6 and 7 from the bottom)!
All in all, the festival was quite a bit of fun and it must have surprised the people pouring out of the busy Shibuya JR station to find the Nebuta festival right in front of the station main exit! I am already looking forward to next year!