Last weekend I visited the annual Teruhime Matsuri Parade (照姫まつり) in Shakujii Park (石神井公園), a wonderful little park in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward (練馬区). I was joined with about 128 000 others to see the 100 volunteers dressing up and acting the part of three historic nobles and their entourage. The nobles in question were the prominent members of the Toshima Clan, which has given their name to Toshima Ward, Toshima Station and many other places in Tokyo. Their historic castle used to be located in this very park. The clan was most powerful from the 12th century to about 1470 when they were ousted by a rival clan, the Uesugi.
The festival started in 1988 to promote the area and its history and the volunteers taking past are selected during an audition held for the people living in Nerima Ward. The legend that is the basis of the parade is said to have taken place in 1477 when the castle was besieged by a vassal of the Uesugi clan. Rather than to risk capture the lord of the castle jumped into the lake on horseback and disappeared in the deep waters. His daughter Teruhime was so distraught that she jumped after him and she too disappeared. However there is nothing to support this legend in historical documents so it is most likely not true at all.
Apart from the festival I also got a chance to see the beautiful Shakujii Park, which is lined by some very rich mansion houses and surrounds a very nice almost lake like pond. The area is considered one of the most attractive places inside Nerima Ward. Nerima Ward however usually fails to be find itself on any top spots of attractiveness lists, even though it is widely acknowledged to be the safest of all the 23 Tokyo wards and also the one in my opinion that is the most “European in feel”. Remember where you read it first – I see great things in the future of Nerima Ward!
More photos from the Oiran parade in Tokyo’s Asakusa district last weekend. I have been going for a few years now and this year the crowd was the biggest yet. Maybe word is getting out? There is a far bigger parade with several orian in Kitashinagawa every year that has far fewer people. I guess Asakusa is just better branded than Kitashinagawa (although Kitashinagawa also lays claim to some great Godzilla fame!). The day was sunny and the crowds wild. At the end of the parade I got a chance to sneak up in front and get some group photos of the main participants just before they turned around and went to their temporary headquarters in a nearby school. I love the face one of the young assistants to the oiran is making in one of the photos, she must have had an itchy nose!
The orian have a very special way of walking, as in every third step they take they sweep their feet very low in a wide arc, difficult to catch in photos but it looks quite spectacular and is unique as far as I know. You can tell from their three-pronged (remember that normal Japanese shoes have two prongs while monks and tengu have one!) shoes and the way they are scratched bare how low they go in that special step.
Saturday saw the annual Oiran revival parade through the streets of northern Asakusa, complete with fox dancers, one oiran and a number of geisha and various retainers and servants. The parade is just a reenactment of customs that were considered quaint and old fashioned even in the mid Edo-period (18th century). The location of the parade is not a coincidence, as it takes place a couple of blocks south of the old walled city within the city, the famous Yoshiwara district of Asakusa which was one of Tokyo’s most talked about pleasure or red light districts. Today absolutely nothing remains of the old Yoshiwara itself though except parts of the old street pattern. People today associate Yoshiwara with the old sex industry but in fact Yoshiwara was also home of comedians, professional story tellers and the 18th century equivalent of avant garde fashion houses.
The weather on this sunny Saturday was fantastic and I took plenty of photos, here are a first bunch, with more to come later on.
If you are in Tokyo today I can recommend a visit to the huge Sensoji temple in Asakusa to see the rather unique and beautiful white egret dancers – Shirasaginomai (白鷺の舞). Local children together with musicians and performers from the large Yasaka shrine in Kyoto perform in the ceremony that was only revived in 1968 using an old scroll from 1652 as basis for the dance itself.