Two weekends ago I visited the annual Ikebukuro Matsuri, which is the biggest festival in Toshima Ward, one of the biggest of the 23 central Tokyo special wards. At one time Ikebukuro was famous for being the spot in the world with more square feet department store than anywhere else, but the recent death of department stores have lead to there being of these. The number of visitors to the festival keeps increasing however, with this year’s festival the busiest ever. I arrived very late to the West exit area of Ikebukuro but saw my favorite omikoshi in Tokyo – the death defying balls of steel no fear omikoshi (as I call it). They stop regularly on their route and tip the omikoshi violently and rapidly back and forth, urging each other to go deeper and deeper. I can not imagine anything that would bring me more mortal fear than being underneath this omikoshi as it tips over, a ton of wood and steel being inches from crushing you stopped at the last moment by tired, sweaty, possibly drunk, neighbors and friends. Still, it is utterly fascinating to watch. Like bungee jumping, but the other way around.
Ikebukuro is famous for being far more rough and tumble than the rest of Tokyo so it is only natural that their festivals take on a slightly wilder nature!
Although the many omikoshi is the main draw of the festival (there are dozens) a lot of people come for the music performances, food stalls, Okinawan dance troupes and taiko drummers. It is an interesting festival to watch!
Back at the end of September this year I visited the annual Fukuro matsuri being held every year at in Ikebukuro’s west area. It is a huge multi day festival where omikoshi teams from all neighborhoods in the area take part. I have blogged about it several times before but every year I see something different. As usual I arrived a little bit late, but just in time to see the omikoshi teams start their parade around pass the Ikebukuro Station West Exit and into the entertainment district to the south west of the station. There must be thousands of participants dressed in the traditional hanten, the short coats that you can see a lot of in these photos. I still haven’t gone through all the photos I took so there will probably be more to come!
Last months huge Fukuro Matsuri in Tokyo’s northern Ikebukuro district had the same fantastic Okinawan dancers as the last time I visited the festival in 2010. Okinawan dancing is slow, rhythmic and very colorful. For all the times I have visited Okinawa I have yet to see a real Okinawan dancers in their native land! There is something very “nostalgic” about the sound of this kind of music and it makes even a total foreigner like feel “homesick” for Okinawa. I wonder if other people also feel this?
Last weekend we had the big Fukuro Matsuri here in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district. Ikebukuro has a bit of a reputation for being one of the “wilder” areas of Tokyo (it’s still much safer than any small town in Europe on a Sunday afternoon) but they really do have a slightly more aggressive way of handling their omikoshi, the big portable shrines carried in processions on festival days to honor the gods and bless the community. At certain points during the procession the omikoshi stops, despite its hundreds of kilos in weight, gets thrown in the air and then tipped wildly left to right. Some other festivals do this too, but in Ikebukuro they do it faster: the series of eight photos is taken in less than three seconds, with most of the time spent halting the omikoshi from falling to the ground, and crushing one or several of the brave people who have taken a position right beneath it. I have no idea how they can do that without peeing themselves in fear as the shrine comes crashing down on top of them and then suddenly pulls them up as it goes in the other direction. I managed to catch two of the local braves at the end of their near death experience, I wish I had managed to get a shot of where they are almost bent double under the shrine! The Fukuro Matsuri (Fukuro being a play on the name of the area, Ikebukuro, and means owl) takes place every year at the end of September and again a week later with a massive yosakoi dance festival. If you are into Yosakoi, this is one of the three major yosakoi festivals of the greater Tokyo area. If you are in Tokyo over the weekend, you know where to go!