Last month I hurried down to the famous Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market, probably found on almost every foreign tourist visiting Tokyo, to see the last Tsukiji Shishimatsuri taking place inside the old Fish Market ground. The fish market is scheduled to close in a few months, ending a decades long history as the main fresh fish market of the Japanese capital. Usually a quite minor festival, this one was a little bit special and it was wonderful to have had the chance to see the gates of the Fish Market open one last time for huge black toothed lion’s head, the priests, and the omikoshi (portable shrine) belonging to the local Jinja. More photos and stories from this festival to come!
The season for Bonodori, one of many Japanese dances, is upon us! One of the first big Bonodori festivals for me this year was yesterday at the huge Tsukiji Honaji temple, near Tokyo’s Ginza district. Bonodori generally takes place around a raised podium that is topped by one or two taiko drummers, while the second raised level is used by a group of very experienced bonodori dancers that show the moves to the general audience at street level. Anyone is welcome to join but I have never managed to get the hang of it. The music is slow and reminds most people of enka, the traditional Japanese “pops” so popular with most people over the age of 70 here in Japan. Every song in bonodori is associated with its own set of movements, hence the need to more experienced dancers to lead the dance from a visible spot in the middle!
It was also fun to walk around the temple grounds and check out all the people, not least the four temple members dressed up in big huggable suits that were almost knocked to the ground by swarms of kids running as fast as possible to get the biggest hug!
The Honganji is a very old temple, founded in the 13th century it was moved here after a fire in the early 17th century and detroyed once again in an earthquake in 1923. The temple was rebuilt by the legendary architect Ito Chuta (1867-1954) who was one of the leading architects in the movement to try and create a style that was uniquely Japanese while incorporating elements of all other forms of architecture, from Chinese and Indian all the way back to the ancient greek temples. It is easy to see the classical hellenistic influences on this huge buddhist temple!
The festival continues today and tomorrow, so if you are in Tokyo and want to see one of the best organized bonodori festivals in the city, just take the subway to Tsukiji station at 1900! After the festival I recommend a refreshing evening walk through the Ginza and Yurakucho areas!
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!
Awhile ago I was walking along Sumida River, one of Tokyo’s great waterways at dusk with my camera and snapped these of the Tsukiji harbor area. If you look at the photo of the dock you can see the trucks at the ready to receive the catch straight from the ships, 24/7. As I walked I also caught one of the many tour boats cruising the river from Asakusa to Odaiba and back. Very colorful!