One of the most famous “Temple Shrines” (temples that also functioned as shrines – it is a long a complicated story about the role of Japan’s two major religions Buddhism and Shinto) in Tokyo is the Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin in Tokyo’s Moto Akasaka district (near both Nagatacho stations and the famous Akasaka Mitsuke stations). Erected as a branch office of the main Toyokawa Inari in Aichi Prefecture, it has been tremendously popular from the day it was opened in 1828 to this day. During the years after its founding, the temple shrine was moved and the buildings rearranged, one of them being one of my favorite buildings in Tokyo; the tiny Okunoin (奥の院). It looks very much like an ordinary shrine from the outside, except that it is strikingly white (which is quite unusual), but on the inside it looks like any rural temple complete with buddhist art and statues. During the Hatsumode season this year (early January) the Okunoin building was opened to the public and I got my first chance to poke around outside. I would have loved to spend more time in here but lots of people were lining up outside waiting to get in so I had to be quick with my camera.
The Tokyokawa Inari Bestuin is very popular with celebrities and if you have a chance it is a great spot to go for the New Year’s celebrations, from about half an hour before midnight on the 31st to the Coming of Age day in early January.
This week Tokyo is celebrating one of the main festivals of the metropolitan area, the grand Sannou Matsuri based on the Hie Shrine in the center of Tokyo. The festival is not a “people’s” festival as such, it focuses more on the ritual and religious aspects of the festivals hence tend to be cleaner, quieter and not as noisy as the more common plebeian festivals. The main event of the Sannou Maturi is a very long, very protracted procession taking place on a large area of central Tokyo, including Hibiya and Shimbashi. You can read more about this festival by clicking the tags!
A few more photos from the big Sannou Matsuri in Tokyo a couple of weeks ago. Most traditional festivals in Japan are very closely related to the ancient Shinto religion, a religion that started more as a folk-lore and in which there are many kinds of spirits, human, natural, animal, even mineral! So it makes sense to acknowledge the natural spirits of even the plants and the animals of Japan in many of the shinto festivals. Here a white horse and a holy tree are used in the 9 hour plus procession around Japan. If you missed it this year, make sure to go see it next year!
Today – right now actually – is your last chance to see this year’s grand Sannou Matsuri procession on the streets of Tokyo. Covering a pretty good part of Tokyo’s most central addresses, this procession will spend almost ten hours winding its way to Nagatacho’s Hie shrine. I took these photos on Friday, the first day of the procession, and since it was a weekday very few people were out to watch it. As with most traditional things in this city of millions, most people have never heard of this festival and can live their entire lives in Tokyo without ever seeing it even though it employs hundreds of people and is one of the three major historical festivals in Tokyo.
As with all festivals, the portable shrines are the center point. They are carried, pulled, rolled or drawn around the city to parade the holy shrine for the city to see. In the old days festivals would compete to have the most extravagant omikoshi, hikiyama or dashi (お神輿, 曳山, 山車, there are several names for the different types of portable shrines). These hikiyama could become very tall, some have raisable platforms so that they could more easily be stored, some had mast like contraptions that could raise the top of it tens of meters in the air. But most of these really tall hikiyama fell victim to the modernization of Japanese cities and the last time they were used in Tokyo was in 1889, before the trams and train lines made it impossible to move them around the city. These days they are much smaller but still accompanies by teams of men with large bamboo poles to lift wires and other obstructions. When they pass through particularly narrow openings or under bridges, people usually cheer! The phoenix (or any kind of mythological bird) on top of the portable shrines) look slightly different around Japan. I have been told that Osaka birds are more modest in their wingspan, while Tokyo people preferred birds that really stretched out their wings. I wonder if this is correct? So if you’re in Tokyo reading this, get out there and cheer them on! I posted a link to the procession map in yesterday’s blog!