The festival floats at the annual summer festival in Sawara City in northern Chiba is something special, famous for their huge top decorations, some lifelike images of Gods and heroes, others are more stylistic (and moving!) representations of animals and spirits. There are two major festivals in Sawara City, both drawing thousands of tourists and participants. Each of the two festivals are sponsored by one of the two shrines separated by the Onogawa River. The summer festival is traditionally under the domain of the eastern Yasaka Shrine, in the Honjuku part of town. Note the solid wooden wheels of the wagons, or dashi, as they are called, and the painted poles used to maneuver them. The pole in the close up looks almost unused, which you can tell from the fact that the end looks flat and neat. When the wagons have been maneuvered around the narrow streets and bridges of the town the poles look more like massive and badly sharpened pencils and there are splinters all over town! More photos of this fantastic festival to come!
Although the Shishimatsuri in Tsukiji will continue, quite possible for at least another millennia or two, this year’s festival was the last one to actually enter the famous fish market, ending 86 years of tradition. The festival is named after the famous lion’s heads paraded around, but there is of course also the omikoshi present, portable shrines housing temporarily the Gods of the shrine. The priests of the shrine also participate in the parade. Each shrine has a different way of doing things, some have their priests mounted on horses, others in open cars, others on foot, or as in this one, pulled in rickshaws (jinrikisha). The parade makes frequent stops but it goes on for hours as it winds its way around the parish, so I assume the jinriksha pullers get pretty tired by the end of the day.
The Tsukiji Shishimatsuri is a three day event and I was there for the Saturday, so I only got to see part of it. We’ll have to wait until next year’s June for another chance! This time the festival will be in its shadow phase (so it will be smaller) and it won’t enter the fish market itself.
In June this year we saw the last ever Tsukiji Shishi Festival inside the legendary Tokyo main fish market at Tsukiji (apparently the biggest fish market in the world). The fish market, and its very own patron shrine, Suijinja, was established in 1590 when Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu based himself in the city of Edo and invited fishermen from Osaka to provide food for his castle and court. Originally it was located in the Nihonbashi area but moved to its present location in 1923 after the Great Kanto Earthquake. The fish market was built on newly reclaimed land and finished in 1935. The main Shishimatsuri has been held inside the Fish Market since then, but this was the final as it is moving to a spot near Toyosu, next to Odaiba.
Due to this being the last major festival in the beloved old fish market, the turn out was absolutely massive. Not least the number of men who carried the omikoshi. I had other things to think about than to get good photos; like avoiding being trampled by the crowds! I also got to see the absolutely tiny Suijinja which is the only shrine inside the actual market area. I am not sure but I heard that it is being moved to the new location together with the market.
The fish market itself is a huge wholesale market, where between 60 000 and 65 000 persons come to work every day, so it feels weird to be able to walk around in it like a normal festival. I can imagine it was very emotional for the old timers though!
Last month I hurried down to the famous Tokyo Tsukiji Fish Market, probably found on almost every foreign tourist visiting Tokyo, to see the last Tsukiji Shishimatsuri taking place inside the old Fish Market ground. The fish market is scheduled to close in a few months, ending a decades long history as the main fresh fish market of the Japanese capital. Usually a quite minor festival, this one was a little bit special and it was wonderful to have had the chance to see the gates of the Fish Market open one last time for huge black toothed lion’s head, the priests, and the omikoshi (portable shrine) belonging to the local Jinja. More photos and stories from this festival to come!