If you are in Tokyo this weekend and not interested in the massive Kawagoe festival taking place in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo I recommend visiting the far smaller but almost as crowded Oeshiki ceremony at Kishibojin in Zoshigaya, a 10 minute walk south of Ikebukuro station. Kishibojin temple is one of those religious mysteries of which there are so many in Japan. Even the name is unclear as it changes from different maps and signs, and it is a hybrid Shrine/Temple celebrating Oeshiki which is a distinctly buddhist ceremony a week later than all the other Oeshiki ceremonies, it is officially called a shrine but it has no torii gate but a small Inarijinja. I have visited dozens of times but I still haven’t unravelled this one. More studies needed!
Yesterday when I took these photos was the first evening of the three night event. Tonight and tomorrow will be much bigger with thousands of people taking part and as many onlookers crowding the narrow streets leading up to Kishibojin temple. Like at the Oeshiki in the main Nichiren temple in Ikegami last week, there are lots of matoi dancers as well as the larger mando. It is considered good luck to touch one of the white paper flowers and you can even buy them to decorate your home altar at a small stand inside the temple, but unlike the main ceremony in Ikegami touching them is not encouraged and I have never seen anyone doing it, so it is probably better to ask before reaching out and getting some of that good luck!
Photographing this even it extremely difficult, fast moving, dark and quite introverted this is not a photogenic festival despite all the fantastic things going on! Also, if you are into amezaiku the man at Zoshigaya this weekend is really talented. Also, while visiting the festival you can check out what is probably the oldest kiosk in continuous operation in the world, having started in 1781!
One of my favorites among the teams that performed at the first night of the Hatsudai Awaodori festival in Hatsudai just next to Shinjuku a couple of nights ago was the Otoriren. They have a good mix dancers and musicians and give the impression that they take their dancing seriously enough to be able to have fun with it. It takes skill to make something difficult like this look easy! They also have a very photogenic catchy set of uniforms! You can find their official homepage here and their Facebook page here!
Last night was the start of the annual Awaodori Matsuri at Shibuya ward’s Hatsudai, just next to Shinjuku. The festival started just as the rain started falling but after a few minutes the rains subsided and the festival could start of for real. Hatsudai is home to a few awaodori dance teams, the most famous being the Hatsudairen. Since yesterday was an ordinary weekday here in Tokyo most of the teams were smaller than usual but today is a public holiday and the teams should be back in full strength! This is the last of the major Tokyo awaodori festivals so here is your chance!
The festival is easily reached by the Toei Shinjuku Line, south exit.
I hadn’t been to many bonodori festivals this summer so I was happy to find one scheduled for the final night of the large Hikawa Shrine festival in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. The bonodori is a rather complicated dance with music that makes it sound very like Sunday matinee movie from the late 1940s. It takes place around a raised podium where a taiko drummer helps keep the rhythm and it is usually performed in the traditional summer dress of Japan, the yukata (think kimono light). In a land with many dances and tradition thousands of years old it is good to see that new traditions are still slowly being grown, like this kind of dance. I imagine people in 1000 years will be dancing this to the exact same music and with the same movements as we do today.
As many bonodori festivals I have been to, this must surely be the most perfect. The space is not too large, not too small, and above all, it takes place under the trees! The red lanterns combine with the canopy of leaves to create a once in a lifetime perfect “room” for the dance to take place. I might be the only one to notice, but such perfection leaves me in tears these days. When I imagine the ideal bonodori location, this was it. I just didn’t know it really existed. I know bonodori ranks very low on the list of exciting festivals to see or experience, even for local Japanese, but if you are into it, this is the one to visit. It usually starts on the Sunday of the festival at 1830, but music starts much earlier, usually at 17300, and the drummers are always there early to warm up.
The Hikawa Shrine (氷川神社) in Minato Ward (there are hundreds all over Japan) is easily accessible from Akasaka, Tameikesanno, Nogizaka, Roppongi or Roppongi Ichome stations.