Last Saturday was the grand Koiwa Awaodori festival, perhaps one of the first, bigger Awaodori festivals in central Tokyo of the year. This was only the second annual festival, making it one of the youngest festivals of this kind in Tokyo. True to form, this year the rain was pouring down just like on the inaugural event last year! The dancers and musicians of this traditional dance from from Tokushima Prefecture in southern Japan held strong though and danced the entire two hours of the main event, despite the pouring rain.
I took these photos in the beginning of the festival, of the famous Asakusa Kaminariren (浅草雷連) and the new for me but excellent Eboshiren (笑星連) from Kanagawa Prefecture. Both teams were excellent in high form! As soon as the rain period ends the Awaodori season here in Tokyo beings in earnest – I can hardly wait!
One of my favorite images in terms of pride, ritual, dignity, and tradition when it comes to the classic Japanese festivals (matsuri in Japanese) are the lantern bearers often found in front of the omikoshi. When several omikoshi team up for a parade, you get several of them lined up, forming a wall, each bearing a lantern with the name of the group or neighborhood they represent. When you have hundreds of them, as in last months massive 400 year anniversary Kanada Matsuri, you get serval opportunities to see these teams lined up and ready to go. At this festival the parades started early in the morning but the sheer size of the festival meant that most of them were not ready to even get close to the shrine until well into the evening. I took these photos near Akihabara station, as one group of omikoshi were waiting for their turn to approach the shrine. In between waiting, there was entertainment in the form of a lion dancer, performing for the kids and adults of the omikoshi teams.
At night the lantern groups look even more impressive. One day I’ll get around to posting photos of that too!
On Sunday I visited the annual Omikoshi parade at Yokohama City’s Isezakicho main street, near Kannai station. It is not a normal festival in that there is no shrine actually sponsoring it, instead omikoshi from various shrines in the areas are gathered for one massive three and half hour parade down the street. There was supposed to be 18 of them, but I only saw 16 I think, or I might have missed counting a couple in the confusion! Despite this being the rainy season the weather was merciless; hot and a blazing sun!
The most interesting thing for us tokyoites is the peculiar Shonan area style of shouldering the omikoshi, the Dokkoi. These omikoshi use only two long poles rather than the Edo style which is four poles, and a much sturdier construction. Many of these also have a “box” under section, with massive metal handles being slammed rhythmically against the hollow box sides making for a massive din. Unlike the Edo style common in Tokyo the omikoshi here do not swing from side to side, but rather up and down.
Many of the teams are accompanied by a singer calling out the rhythmical cadence style folk singing, the jinku. I love this melody and it is a special pleasure to follow the teams with the best singers!
The Grand Kanda Myojin, the Greatest of all shrines in Tokyo is actually a conglomerate of several smaller shrines surrounding it. One of these shrines is the original Edo Shrine, and naturally their omikoshi (portable shrine) that carries the shrine gods is one of the biggest and most splendid in the capital. At the Kanda Matsuri it is taken out once every two years and as it enters the shrine precinct for the last time on the last evening, three men ride it in order to guide it properly to the priests waiting. The entrance of this omikoshi into the shrine is maybe the most eagerly awaited points of the festival, as over 200 locals guide carry it forward, not all at the same time, but naturally everyone wants to take part in this honorable endeavor so there is a lot of jostling to get the coveted places under the omikoshi!
As I watched several people around me were arguing whether one, two or maybe all three of them would fall of this year, as sometimes happen – the ride is everything but smooth! But one woman in the audience near us quieted everyone with a sharp “Hush you fools – no one is falling off this year!” And as you can see it turned out she was completely correct.
Being underneath even a small omikoshi is terrifying, but this one is huge! I can only imagine how scary it must be to be on top! Most of this omikoshi was made in Tokyo in 1958, but some parts have come all the way from Osaka. Both workshops are the most prestigious omikoshi makers in the country.