Tokyobling's Blog

Hatsumode at Kanda Myojin

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on January 26, 2015

This year I visited the famous Kanda Myojin Shrine near Akhibara for hatsumode – the first visit to a shrine of the year – pretty early in the day. Lots of people and the obligatory new year’s lion dance. I have seen dozens of lion dancers throughout my years living in Tokyo but the dancers of this troupe is by far the best so far. The most endearing part of this tradition is when they hold up the little kids to have their heads “bitten” by the lions, which is supposed to make for strong healthy children. The bravest ones go through it with a smile but the smaller kids often cry fiercely at the prospect, obviously these kids get the biggest cheers of approval from the sympathetic audience.

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Lion Dance and Hayashi – Kanda Myojin Hatsumode

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on January 9, 2014

At last week’s Hatsumode event in Tokyo’s Kanda Myoijin (Kanda Shrine) I saw this hayashi group, a form of music and simple performances that are common in festivals and at shrines, and their Shishinomai, or Lion Dancer. During my years in Japan I must have seen a hundred or so of various lion dancers but this man was by far the best I have seen so far. Of course it is impossible to tell through photos alone, but his dancing, acting and interaction with the crowd was so far above anything else I have ever seen that I stood there with my jaw dropped and forgot all about video taping it. Unfortunately I couldn’t find out the name of the performer or even the troupe, but even after dancing he came back to join in the drummer and also instructing some of the newer members. Hayashi drumming is quite fast and the rhythm is complicated so they rotate the members on stage quite often, which is good because some troupes play continuously from morning to late night.

During festivals you will almost always hear Hayashi music, some festivals use recordings and loudspeakers, others use only live musicians or a combination or live and recorded music. Either way, a Japanese festival does not feel complete without the constant hayashi music in the background. The music itself is more important than the performance. In some festivals that I have visited the performers were hardly even visible, tucked away on a small stage to the side raised so high that you can hardly see anything. Use the tags to find other posts I have written about Hayashi!

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Hatsumode at Kanda Myojin

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on January 4, 2014

While most people are content to visit one shrine for their hatsumode (the first visit to a shrine or temple for the new year) I prefer to visit as many as possible to make the most of the festive atmosphere in the first few days of the new year! One shrine I visited this year was the Kanda Myojin, one of the great shrines of Tokyo. It is located between Akihabara and Ochanomizu stations and lies on top of a hill with some pretty steep roads leading up to it. These photos will be in reverse order as I didn’t use the main entrance of the shrine.

The main purpose of the hatsumode ritual is to pray at the altar of the shrine. The biggest shines in the country have tens of thousands of people waiting in line but on the 2nd of January Kanda Myojin still had several hundreds of people in line and a continuous stream of people coming up the stairs. It was crowded up front and police did their best to keep the line moving in an orderly fashion. Usually you drop a few coins into the coinbox in front of the altar but due to the huge number of people the entire front of the shrine had been turned into a coin receptacle and people were hurling coins through the air over the heads of everyone in front of them. The noise the coins make is great!

Kanda Myojin was founded in 730 and is the old favorite shrine of the first Tokugawa Shogun who finally brought peace to the country in 1600, although he had it moved from its original location much closer to the old Edo Castle (near the present day imperial palace) due to the shrine’s close association with Taira no Masakado, a rebellious nobleman who fought the central government until he was captured and beheaded in 940. The rebel’s spirit is enshrined in Kanda Myojin and it is believed that bad fortune will fall on the land if he is not venerated properly. The spirit of Taira no Masakado was such a powerful symbol of rebellion that even modern emperors have been reluctant to be associated with the shrine. Nevertheless, the fortunes of Tokyo is so associated with keeping the spirit happy that the shrine remains one of the most well kept shrines in the country.

Kanda Myojin was one of the few buildings of the area to survive the bombings of WWII. It had been destroyed in the big earthquake in 1923 and was rebuilt in 1934 in concrete, hence it remained even after the firebombings of 1945. The most photogenic part of the shrine is the two storied gatehouse, the Zuishin-mon (隨神門) in photos 8 and 10, it was only rebuilt in 1994.

I will post more photos of this fantastic shrine in the days to come!

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