Sunday was the main day of the large Konnohachimangu festival, or the Shibuya festival. Lots of omikoshi (not as old as the one I blogged about yesterday) gathered for the main blessing ceremony right in front of the famous 109 department store just a stone’s throw from the even more famous Shibuya Scramble street crossing (arguably the center of Japan today). The streets were packed with the many different neighborhood omikoshi, and even though Shibuya is hardly a residential area these days there were plenty of volunteers from outside of the area as well. Although the main ceremony was over in a few minutes the omikoshi teams kept going for hours afterwards, all around Shibuya!
With all the festivals taking place in and around Tokyo you are bound to see dozens of different omikoshi, portable shrine that temporarily houses the kami or Gods, of the shrine during festivals. Every shrine worth its salt has at least one and sometimes up to a handful of these omikoshi. They are still manufactured by specialist artisans and obviously very expensive. In a way these omikoshi represent the accumulated wealth of many generations of locals, which means that shrines can afford to add to their collection over time. These days there are special omikoshi for children and I have even seen tiny ones for kindergartens.
In the old days however omikoshi were still relatively rare and not all shrines had one of their own or even access to one (sometimes shrines can borrow omikoshi from neighbors if they do not have any of their own). And here is where the interesting story on how the oldest omikoshi in Tokyo now resides with the Konnohachimangu Grand Shrine in Shibuya, where it is peacefully retired.
In the early Edo period (probably sometime in the early 1600s) the Konnouhachimangu still had no omikoshi of its own, despite it being a grand shrine. Another shrine of the same family, the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu in Kamakura (about 45km south-west of Shibuya) in the province of Sagami (modern day Kanagawa prefecture), however, famously had seven omikoshi of its own. One summer, a group of young men from the Aoyama militia went down to Kamakura to help the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu with their annual festival, handling one of the seven omikoshi. Their purpose was initially to plead with the shrine officials to let them borrow one of the omikoshi for the upcoming festival in Shibuya but once they arrived they got sidetracked by the food and the drink offered them by the locals in Kamakura. As drunk as they were, they decided to take one of the omikoshi out for a spin, but instead of doing the rounds and then returning to the shrine together with the other omikoshi for the final ceremony of the annual festival, they just kept going towards Edo. Even as night fell they crossed the border into Kawasaki and just kept on going through the fields, through villages over bridges and hills. The shrine officials and locals in Kamakura eventually figured out that one of the omikoshi was missing and sent out runners to track it down. The runners soon found the tracks of the drunken men from Aoyama and set out to intercept them.
In those days there were naturally no street lighting and the road between Kamakura and Edo was only lit by the stars and the moon on the open streches and pitch black when it entered a forest or stands of bamboo. As the night wore on the men from Aoyama grew very tired carrying the heavy omikoshi, going through Kawasaki, over the Tama river and deeper into Edo, all the while chased by the angry men from Kamakura. At the Meguro river they came to a slope known as the Kurayamisaka (which means Slope of Darkness) that was famous for being so dark at night that a traveler could not see even the road ahead of him. The Kamakura men lost track of the omikoshi in the pitch black darkness and finally gave up and started the long walk back to Kamakura.
As the now sober Aoyama militia came charging through the gates of the Konnohachimangu it was decided by everyone involved that it was best to lay low for awhile and ever since then one of the seven Kamakura omikoshi has been residing in Shibuya.
The omikoshi might have arrived in Shibuya at the early 17th century but it is actually much older than that, having been made during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), making it the oldest omikoshi in Tokyo by far. If you go to the shrine in Shibuya you can see it for yourself, this over 800 year old treasure “kidnapped” from Kamakura.
I think this story should be made into a movie. It would be hilarious.
If you are in Tokyo this weekend and want to experience the fun, music and bustle of a traditional festival you could pick the grand Konnohachimangu Matsuri (渋谷金王八幡宮例大祭) which takes place on both Saturday and Sunday in and around the grand shrine in Shibuya. The festival has everyting: gorgeous and energetic Awaodori at the shrine itself, huge lit paper sculptures of the Nebuta at the Center Gai, omikoshi careening all over Shibuya, folk singing and tons of other events. Even rowing gangs of taiko drummer and impromptu karaoke contests!
There are also plenty of other festivals taking place this weekend like the Hikawa Shrine Matsuri which starts tonight in Akaska, or the Ark Hills Autumn festival also in Akasaka, or the Ikebukuro Brazilian festival, or the Sakurashinmachi Nebuta festival tomorrow.
These photos from all around the festival area is from last year’s festival. Shibuya is an interesting place and packed with people even on normal days, add the weekend shoppers, the foreign tourists and a full on traditional festival and you get a very interesting mix of people and purposes! The three day long weekend means that many festivals carry on until Monday the 15th, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to visit as many festivals as you want!
I took this photo of a shrine maiden on duty in Shibuya’s grand shrine, the Konouhachimangu (金王八幡宮) at the annual festival last year. Some of these shrine maidens, or mike (巫女) are full time employees of the shrine but the vast majority are temporarily employed part time workers. Most of them are high school students or university students doing it for the experience and for pocket money. Although most people are impressed by young women with miko work experience there are also other bonuses, such as learning about customer service and Japanese culture and traditions. I have also heard ex-miko who mention that their math skills improved as they learned to calculate quickly in the heads when working over the main holidays selling votive plates, charmes, etc. I also think it is impossible to find any service job in the world where the staff are treated with more respect than this! On the negative side, in the winters the thin uniform and the hours spent outside can make it an almost unbearable experience for many. Some miko are also quite tired of the often very repetitive work as well as tired of constantly being photographed. This last complaint hits hard with myself, especially!
For their stoic service and hard work in the cold of winter or heat of summer a typical part-time miko can expect to earn between 8000 and 12 000 yen per day, depending on age, experience and length of work. This is a typical part time salary here in Tokyo and higher than many full time positions out in the prefectures. Good work, if you are unmarried and reasonably stoic!