One of the most famous “Temple Shrines” (temples that also functioned as shrines – it is a long a complicated story about the role of Japan’s two major religions Buddhism and Shinto) in Tokyo is the Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin in Tokyo’s Moto Akasaka district (near both Nagatacho stations and the famous Akasaka Mitsuke stations). Erected as a branch office of the main Toyokawa Inari in Aichi Prefecture, it has been tremendously popular from the day it was opened in 1828 to this day. During the years after its founding, the temple shrine was moved and the buildings rearranged, one of them being one of my favorite buildings in Tokyo; the tiny Okunoin (奥の院). It looks very much like an ordinary shrine from the outside, except that it is strikingly white (which is quite unusual), but on the inside it looks like any rural temple complete with buddhist art and statues. During the Hatsumode season this year (early January) the Okunoin building was opened to the public and I got my first chance to poke around outside. I would have loved to spend more time in here but lots of people were lining up outside waiting to get in so I had to be quick with my camera.
The Tokyokawa Inari Bestuin is very popular with celebrities and if you have a chance it is a great spot to go for the New Year’s celebrations, from about half an hour before midnight on the 31st to the Coming of Age day in early January.
There are a lot of festivals going on in Tokyo this weekend, the biggest probably being the one in Shibuya that I posted yesterday, but not far behind is the Hikawa Shrine Matsuri in Tokyo’s central Akasaka (not to be confused with the very similar sounding place name Asakusa). This festival kicked off on Friday evening but I didn’t have time to visit so here are a few photos from my visit to this festival back in 2012, a couple of years ago. I have been to this festival many times and it is always fun, especially to see the large dashi, the mobile shrine platforms as they are pulled and pushed and dragged all around the narrow streets and hills of Akasaka (赤坂, even the name means Red Hill). There are two different dashi and they are used on different days, so depending on when you see them you are bound to see a different one. Dashi connoisseurs (yes there are such people!) can easily tell the difference, but less learned people like me have a bit of a hard time.
A good friend that I met by chance at a festival last weekend let me in on how omikoshi (the mobile shrines carried by parishioners around the neighborhood) are judged in action! I can’t believe I hadn’t gotten this earlier, but apparently people in the know look at the four tassels hanging around the edges of most omikoshi (the ones in this festival are blueish purple): if the tassels swing wildly in rhythm, it means that the omikoshi is moving with cheer and purpose, if they hang straight or just sort of rattle around it means the carriers are running low on energy and the proper spirit. The best way to get the tassels swinging is to cheer the carriers on which usually spurs everyone into action!
If you have time and the opportunity, don’t miss this or any of the many other big festivals this weekend!
Many festivals in Japan feature the huge wheeled shrine platforms called dashi (山車) that often carry dancers and musicians. Some of these have engines, others rely on manpower and others a combination. Some are so large that they have to be lifted up and rotated because they can’t turn! On the first day of the Akasaka Hikawa Shrine festival a week ago they only had the one dashi out, but it’s a beauty. It is always so fun to see these very traditional handmade wagons being pulled around a modern city center, full of glass, concrete and neon signs. Very few people still live in these commercial districts so the omikoshi teams usually rely on staff from local companies and shops and even night clubs to help out, which makes for a friendly bunch of fun loving people, as you can see in some of these photos.
Still the festival season isn’t over, although it is drawing towards a close as the weekends see fewer and fewer festivals. Better enojy it while it lasts!
I hope you are not getting tired of festival photos! It is the festival season and I spend most of my free time following the festivals around Tokyo. Here are some more photos from the festival at Akasaka’s grand Hikawa shrine. The procession has moved down to just in front of Akasaka Mitsuke station, and there it lines up, reforms and get ready for a return journey up the slope to Akasaka station, in front of Akasaka Sakasu. The lantern bearers and officials get a chance to drink something as cans of soda and tea are passed around. I usually drink about a liter of fluids during a couple of hours of just shooting these processions, I can only imagine how parched the people taking part must be!
For some reason this is the part of the festivals that I like best. The quiet moment just before the action starts, the rest and the readiness. When everyone is waiting for the signal to go, no one in the procession (or even the policemen) knowing any more than their own limited part, everyone trusting and waiting for someone to give the go ahead. It takes a lot of energy to control a “machine” like this, to keep it on its toes ready to start. Once the procession starts going it follows a logic of its own and the people involved perform their part. So my favorite photo this time is the fourth from the bottom. Just minutes before starting. In the last two photos you can see concrete pillars sticking up from the ground, I am standing on one of these as I take the photos. I usually don’t like taking photos from above, but sometimes it is fun to do something from an inconvenient angle. I generally have a very bad sense of balance but for some reason got up on these tiny rounded pillars no problem at all.
In the third to last photo you can see the different lanterns held up in the procession, each is decorated with the name of the neighborhood it belongs to, showing that they take part in the festival. It is an honor to get to carry one of these! More photos to come!