More photos from the grand Mitama Matsuri taking place at Tokyo’s centrally located Yasukuni Shrine, from Monday to Thursday this year. I was there on the first day of the festival to see the beautiful Omikoshi (portable shrine) being carried all the way up the shrine, pausing a few times on the way to let the people carrying it catch their breath. This is one of the most prestigious omikoshi in the capital, so there is quite a lot (good hearted, usually, but not always) jostling for the most honorable spots underneath it! A few people also took the opportunity to pose with the omikoshi before the last spurt under the great gatehouse. Since the festival is tied in with the traditional tanabata celebrations there are usually some very colorful decorations hanging from the front of the grand gatehouse.
If you are in Tokyo, don’t miss the last day of the festival tomorrow! It is better than ever this year!
Monday was the start of the famous Mitama Matsuri at one of Tokyo’s most influential shrines, the Yasukini Jinja. This year the festival is very different from previous years though, in one very obvious way – there are no food stalls (yatai)! A few months ago it was decided by the shrine to ban all eating, drinking and food stands outside and around the shrine (with the exception of a few vending machines for drinks and the cafes and restaurants run by the shrine itself. The reason for this harsh decision which made the news in both papers and TV, was that the drinking and party aspect of the festival had gone out of hand in the last few years. The shrine wanted to get back to a cleaner, more respectful and traditional festival. As you can see, the atmosphere of the festival changed quite a bit! If I have to give my opinion on the shrines decision, I would have to agree 100% with them. I am absolutely not against the yatai, and they are an important part of any Japanese summer festival, but there are hundreds of other festivals in Tokyo alone, where anyone can to enjoy the food part of the classic matsuri. It was actually quite nice to experience this new style of festival. Another bonus was that there were much more space available to visitors, and so movement became much easier and quicker, not much more crowded than being in Shibuya on a Saturday afternoon.
Being a huge fan of Omikoshi I made sure not to miss the first of them! The festival goes on until the 16th, with different performances, shows and music throughout the day and the evening. If you are in Tokyo, this really is a must, the start of the hot and humid summer classic Tokyo festivals!
The Grand Kanda Myojin, the Greatest of all shrines in Tokyo is actually a conglomerate of several smaller shrines surrounding it. One of these shrines is the original Edo Shrine, and naturally their omikoshi (portable shrine) that carries the shrine gods is one of the biggest and most splendid in the capital. At the Kanda Matsuri it is taken out once every two years and as it enters the shrine precinct for the last time on the last evening, three men ride it in order to guide it properly to the priests waiting. The entrance of this omikoshi into the shrine is maybe the most eagerly awaited points of the festival, as over 200 locals guide carry it forward, not all at the same time, but naturally everyone wants to take part in this honorable endeavor so there is a lot of jostling to get the coveted places under the omikoshi!
As I watched several people around me were arguing whether one, two or maybe all three of them would fall of this year, as sometimes happen – the ride is everything but smooth! But one woman in the audience near us quieted everyone with a sharp “Hush you fools – no one is falling off this year!” And as you can see it turned out she was completely correct.
Being underneath even a small omikoshi is terrifying, but this one is huge! I can only imagine how scary it must be to be on top! Most of this omikoshi was made in Tokyo in 1958, but some parts have come all the way from Osaka. Both workshops are the most prestigious omikoshi makers in the country.
One of the most powerful symbols of the great Kanda Matsuri that took place last month at one of Tokyo’s great shrines, the Kanda Myojin, is the entrance of the two Shishigashira, lion heads, into the shrine itself. One male, and one female, their role is to protect the processions of the shrine festival, and when they finally enter the shrine on the last night they are carried on wooden beams by an all female team. Accompanying them are a set of large traditional drums played by young girls, in a very unusual and ominous style of rhythm. It sounds like nothing else I have heard at a Japanese festival. Since this year’s festival was the 400th, the shrine was crowded beyond capacity. The police and the shrine guards could impossible contain the crowds so the women had to really battle their way to the front of the shrine and receive the final blessing from the head priest. The large golden heads looked amazing!
The original shrine Shishigashira were both destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake in the 1920s, and these were recreated from photos and drawings in 1983.