One of the main draws of the annual grand Kitazawa Hachimangu festival in Tokyo’s Setagaya District is the beautiful shinto rituals and dances that are performed at the shrine’s Kagura stage. I took these photos of the performances at this year’s festival a few weeks ago. The children and young people who perform these rituals with such seriousness are really fantastic. I am already looking forward to next year’s festival!
At last year’s Kitazawa Hachimangu Matsuri (festival) in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward I saw one of the most ancient forms of ritual court dances, the Kochonomai, or butterfly dance. It probably arrived to Japan from Korea in the 8th century and has been completely unaltered ever since. The dance is performed by four or eight maidens (which in modern days usually means children) with colorful costumes performing a ritual dance symbolizing the seasons. In their hands they hold branches of the Yamabuki (Kerria japonica), a rose relative that is native to Japan, Korea and China.
Japan has somehow managed to preserve many of their earliest rituals and ceremonies and for the average person, over a millennium removed, they can be difficult to understand. I will have to study this more, but in the meantime, we can just enjoy the colorful dresses and the wonderful tradition of the dances and music!
This weekend I visited the festivals in Asakusabashi, right next to the Sumida river and south of Asakusa. Starting on Friday evening, the festival runs until Sunday evening and involves three local shrines, taking part together: the Suga Shrine, the Dairoku Tensakaki Shrine and the Ichogaoka Hachiman Shrine. I followed one of the omikoshi, the portable shrines used in these festivals around the Ichogaoka Hachiman Shrine (銀杏岡八幡神社). The main events of this festival takes place today on Sunday, so if you are in Tokyo and want to see a festival I recommend visiting Asakusabashi!