The great pond in Ueno, the Shinobazunoike is famous its many lotus flowers, which have been a feature of the pond since at least the Edo period. I summer it is covered in a green carpet of lotuses, but in winter the dried husks and shells of the flowers form an equally interesting and photogenic space. The pond is also the home of many birds, some of whom are more than happy to serve as models for the passing photographers!
The last day of the Shitaya Shrine (下谷神社) festival is also the biggest, when they bring out the huge main omikoshi of the shrine for a 12 hour long tour of the entire parish, including almost everything from the south of the Yamanote line train tracks from between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations in the west to Ueno station itself in the east, to the Shrine itself in the south. Along the route the huge omikoshi (that requires several times the number of carriers than the more usual smaller omikoshi) is handed over to different neighborhood teams several times. The handovers are a chance for the braves of all neighborhoods to claim a piece of the action and fighting is not unusual. In fact there are dozens of police officers following the omikoshi along with dozens more at the ready whenever the huge group of people involved in the procession hits major roads and traffic points.
I was interested to see how the omikoshi would be able to pass the narrow shopping streets of Ameya Yokocho. As I arrived the small shops were shutting down and boarding up much to the bemusements of local shoppers who had not seen the festival approaching. As the omikoshi came along an unstoppable wave of people proceeded it and basically vacuumed the street clean of anything in its path. I was lucky to stand very close to a side street but even then I was pushed several yards into the side street while trying to make sure no-one was trampled underneath!
After having been pushed out of the Yokocho I went around the back streets to the foot bridges connecting Okachimachi with the Ueno station to get a great view of the mayhem. It was especially interesting to see the way the police maneuvered, in groups with banners and bullhorns. In such large numbers radios become useless and when visibility is no farther than what your arm can reach you need tall banners to direct you troops around. It looked more like a medieval battle than a modern festival! All in all, great fun!
Today is no ordinary day – it is the Mother’s Day here in Japan, celebrated on the second Sunday of May every year. Hahanohi (母の日) is apparently the busiest day of the year for florists across the country, so if you are going out to pick up some flowers for your mother today spare a thought for the staff in the flower shop as well! I saw these two panda in Tokyo’s Ueno district, famous for its pandas. Happy Mother’s day everyone – present as well as future moms!