One of the main draws of the annual grand Kitazawa Hachimangu festival in Tokyo’s Setagaya District is the beautiful shinto rituals and dances that are performed at the shrine’s Kagura stage. I took these photos of the performances at this year’s festival a few weeks ago. The children and young people who perform these rituals with such seriousness are really fantastic. I am already looking forward to next year’s festival!
This weekend I visited the festivals in Asakusabashi, right next to the Sumida river and south of Asakusa. Starting on Friday evening, the festival runs until Sunday evening and involves three local shrines, taking part together: the Suga Shrine, the Dairoku Tensakaki Shrine and the Ichogaoka Hachiman Shrine. I followed one of the omikoshi, the portable shrines used in these festivals around the Ichogaoka Hachiman Shrine (銀杏岡八幡神社). The main events of this festival takes place today on Sunday, so if you are in Tokyo and want to see a festival I recommend visiting Asakusabashi!
I took these photos of the traditional Noh performance at the Shitaya shrine in downtown Ueno/Shitaya. When I first came to Japan the slow and rather formal Noh theatre didn’t hold much interest for me, I was much more interested in the livelier and folksier plebeian festivals, the omikoshi, the Awaodori dancer for example. It wasn’t until I started looking closely at the acting in the tiny kagura stages on local shrine festivals that I fell in love with Noh. The acting, the movements and the music is absolutely sublime. This is storytelling of the highest order, nothing is explained, nothing is expected of the viewer and the audience is allowed to fill in the details for themselves as there is no dialogue nor any subtitles like you’ll find in some western Opera. There are many dozens of stories and roles but the most common ones are performed hundreds of times in Tokyo festivals alone. Although you are fully aware that the actors are wearing masks and that it is all make believe, the way that the tiniest movements interact with the music and the costumes makes it all look fantastically real. It doesn’t take any effort at all to just let your mind relax, just a tiny suspension of disbelief, and the story comes alive like nothing else.
I liken it to interactive 3D images, you know the images where if you stare long enough eventually you’ll see something different. Not everyone gets it at first. It took me years. But now I get Noh. And I love it.
Sometime during the last days of May and the first days of June a number of shrines and temples around Asuksabashi station throws a big joint festival with omikoshi, kagura dancing, hayashi and processions. All the shrines are relatively tiny and the area of Asakusabashi has turned from a residential merchants area to a more or less modern district famous for its wholesellers and craftsmen. Together however they manage to put on quite a good show. The festivals here are also relatively unknown and usually never appears on any tourist guides so visiting these is a good chance to see the truly local festivals almost empty of tourists and photographers! I took these photos during last year’s festivals at various shrines, but most of these photos are from the Ichogaokahachimanjinja (銀杏岡八幡神社) and the Dairoku Tensakaki Shrine (第六天榊神社).