This weekend is practically shock full of festivals all over Japan, not the least all over Tokyo and nearby Yokohama! It is impossible to see even tiny part of all the festivals taking place so pick one or two and make the most of it! One of my personal favorites, and a good one for foreign tourists not used to or not very interested in hanging out with the huge crowds many festivals draw, is the comparably tiny Kuramae Matsuri, in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. The tiny shrine of Kuramae is not only so small that it flies under the radar of most festival aficionados, it also boasts what is often called the most beautiful Omikoshi in all of Edo. Granted, unless you are well studied up on the minute differences between different omikoshi, you are not likely to see much that is special, but the overall look of the omikoshi is nevertheless spectacular. You can use the tags at the end of the post to find more about this shrine, this omikoshi and this festival.
Many festivals feature taiko drummers giving performances once or twice along the festival route, when I visited the Kuramae Matsuri in 2013 I took these photos of a fairly large troupe doing their best to stay in the shadows, as the sun was fairly brutal that day. Taiko drumming is another one of the many “must see in real life” experiences that should be on the top of any tourist’s to see list when visiting Japan!
One thing you will almost always find at a traditional Japanese festival is the taiko troupe. Taiko drummers are used at most festivals to entertain or cheer the omikoshi carriers on. Sometimes at the shrine itself, near it, or somewhere along the route. I once visited a festival where they used the taiko drummers to calm the excited omikoshi crews down a little bit. Here at the Yoyogi Hachimangu festival which took place last week in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward there was a short performance to mark the half time of the omikoshi circuit around the parish. Taiko drummers are impossible to record correctly, the only way to experience it is to actually be there, and feel the drums in your body!
A couple of weeks ago we celebrated the Tanabata Festival here in Japan, which means that many shopping streets and town councils put on an event of some kind to entertain and attract customers and people. Although I did not have time to visit any this year, a couple of years ago I saw a great Taiko performance, big drums and lots of them, at the Kappabashi Tanabata festival. The group performing was roughly 50-50 men and women but where I happened to be crouching down there were only women in front of me! Their energy and performance was absolutely fantastic. Watching taiko from up close is a very physical experience as you can feel the drums as much as you can hear it. If you have the chance to see taiko this summer please do, it is one of these amazing cultural things that Japanese do so well.
This group is called Tawoo and seems to be a cultural organization with a more “tribal” look and feel than the traditional taiko groups of Japan. They have offices from Hokkaido to Okinawa and seem pretty well organized. Don’t miss them if you got the chance! They actually perform in the Karasuyama Fureaimatsuri today, if you happen to be close.
I am extremely fortunate in that I am born a walker. I love walking. Can’t get enough of it. And few cities are so perfectly walkable as Tokyo. I often get off trains a couple off stations early just to get the pleasure of walking the final part of my journey, and I seldom use connecting trains, preferring to get somewhat in the right direction and then walk the last bit. Yesterday I lucked out again as I walking to a place two stations Shinagawa, and halfway there I lucked out and happened to find myself at a street performance by one of Tokyo’s most famous taiko drumming groups, the Daigen group, who has won several top awards both nationally and internationally. Even their junior members looked tougher than most grown up men in the audience! Their manager kept asking us to get closer but from where I was at front every beat of the drums brought sharp pain to my ears so I can understand the audience for keeping their distance!