Yesterday I rushed through one of my favorite festivals here in Tokyo, the massive Mitamamatsuri at the Yasukuni Shrine. Yesterday was the start of the four day event that goes on until Wednesday. Since it was a Sunday there were more people than I have ever seen at this festival before, but the rest of festival should not be so crowded. If you are in Tokyo today or this week, you really should go!
If you are in Tokyo mid-July you could do worse than to visit the massive Mitama matsuri at Tokyo’s famous Yasukuni shrine July 13th to 16th. The Mitama matsuri is most easily explained as a Shinto All Hallows Eve, where the souls of the dead are revered in special ceremonies all over the country. Some shrines though make a bigger event of it, especially those that have been consecrated to enshrine a large number of souls, like the Yasukuni Shrine. The festival is a grand mix of the mitama ceremonies, gorgeous lit lanterns, war remembrance, festival food and drink, traditional performances of everything from taiko drummers to local festivals from far away prefectures.
About 300 000 typically visit during the festival so it is easily one of the most crowded events in Tokyo. There are also opportunities to visit the Yasukuni museum, see the Zero fighter on display and even try some Curry flavored soda, Imperial Navy style!
Getting to Yasukuni is easy since it is conveniently located in the heart of Tokyo. Kudanshita station is the closest, but you can also use Iidabashi (if you prefer JR) or Ichigaya stations (slightly longer to walk).
The first and last stop of most omikoshi, the portable shrines (believed to actually house the Gods) carried around town during shinto festivals, are usually the main shrine of the neighborhood. Not always, but usually. You can usually tell by writing where the omikoshi is from as the name of the neighborhood is written on lanterns or uniforms worn by the townspeople carrying it. In this case I saw the omikoshi of Kojimachi town entering Yasukuni Shrine at the Mitama Matsuri in July this year. It was proceeded by a music teams complete with drums and flutes in the darkness of the night. I think you can get an idea for how crowded it was near the head of the shrine, and the closer the omikoshi got the more crowded it got too. I did not get as close as I wanted, but sometimes it is okay to just stand back and observe as well.
If you are in Tokyo or Saitama today and want to see one of the biggest autumn festivals of the year, then do not miss the massive Kawagoe Matsuri today and tomorrow!
The yukata is the classic summer dress for both men and women here in Japan and I guess it is possible to think of it as the informal kimono. You know it is summer when you see the first yukata worn casually! They are especially common in more traditional events such as festival and dances but some people like to wear them to the beach even. Tying the belt (the obi) of the yukata can be as complicated as you can make it, or as simple as clipping on a belt, these days there are many varieties available in stores. It is also traditional to wear sandals, but you will often see kids with sneakers or even adults with flip flops or boots these days.
I took these photos of ladies in everyday yukata at the massive Mitama Matsuri at Tokyo’s Yasukuni shrine in the Kudanshita district. A lot of people took the opportunity to pose next to the very attractive yellow paper lanterns! This is one of my favorite Tokyo festivals, held in July every year for several days.