In June this year we saw the last ever Tsukiji Shishi Festival inside the legendary Tokyo main fish market at Tsukiji (apparently the biggest fish market in the world). The fish market, and its very own patron shrine, Suijinja, was established in 1590 when Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu based himself in the city of Edo and invited fishermen from Osaka to provide food for his castle and court. Originally it was located in the Nihonbashi area but moved to its present location in 1923 after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The fish market was built on newly reclaimed land and finished in 1935. The main Shishimatsuri has been held inside the Fish Market since then, but this was the final as it is moving to a spot near Toyosu, next to Odaiba.
Due to this being the last major festival in the beloved old fish market, the turn out was absolutely massive. Not least the number of men who carried the omikoshi. I had other things to think about than to get good photos; like avoiding being trampled by the crowds! I also got to see the absolutely tiny Suijinja which is the only shrine inside the actual market area. I am not sure but I heard that it is being moved to the new location together with the market.
The fish market itself is a huge wholesale market, where between 60 000 and 65 000 persons come to work every day, so it feels weird to be able to walk around in it like a normal festival. I can imagine it was very emotional for the old timers though!
When you walk around in Tokyo it’s easy to forget that large parts of this city didn’t exist a few hundred years ago, but sometimes we are reminded that we’re actually walking on reclaimed land by old piers left over, kilometers from the ocean, or signs and temples and names that tell of a long lost connection with the ocean. The area called Tsukiji today was mostly still ocean water until the mid 17th century when it was reclaimed by some very dedicated workers and clever engineers in feudal era Japan. However, at one spot near the Tsukiji fish market harsh waves made work very difficult and land was washed away almost as soon as workers could reclaim it. In order to bring better luck to the project some priests floated an image of an inari god (Inari Myojin) on the water and from then on worked progressed without any further problem. To praise the gods for their help a shrine was erected and named “Namiyoke” – protection against waves. To this day people come to this shrine to pray for safe voyages and to avoid misfortune.
In June every year the shrine hosts a lion festival, called Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri, where two large lion heads are paraded around Tsukiji, and although most ancient wooden lion heads have been destroyed two of them remain to this day, safe since when they were carved in 1848. In the old days the shrine was also connected the clan in charge of Owari Province, the world famous Tokugawa clan. Owari is the old name for the western half of modern Aichi prefecture.
A word of caution though, the industrial areas of Tsukiji are very much still working, unlike many western cities where light and heavy industry has been pushed out of the city centers there is still a lot of noisy production going on in Tsukiji. It’s absolutely not a pretty area, and can look just as grim and run down as any city in Europe or North America. It didn’t help the cause of Tsukiji that I took these snapshots on a cold, windy, over cast day either. Think of this shrine as being very much blue collar. It’s a factory shrine for hard working people. It’s not pretty, but it seems to be working well for the people who pray there!