I spent last weekend in Tokyo’s Setagaya ward and the Shimokitazawa district to enjoy and take part in the grand Kitazawahachiman Matsuri, an autumn festival for all the neighborhoods in the parish. One of the highlights of the festival is always the moment when all the neighborhood omikoshi (portable shrines carrying the kami, or god-spirit), gather at the shrine to pay their respects. One neighborhood fields two different omikoshi, one regular for the neighborhood and one unusual Onnamikoshi, or an omikoshi only for women! For natural reasons these are very popular but few neighborhoods have the resources to field two omikoshi, so they either limit the regular omikoshi to men or mix it up both for men and women. Carrying an omikoshi is definitively a team effort, but the things that make some members of the team strong independently makes them weaker in the team, and the omikoshi often serves as a subtle reminder of this.
The Kitazawahachimangu (北澤八幡宮) is located on the top of a hill and the omikoshi has to be carried up some quite steep stairs. Usually the neighborhoods have one or more (sometimes dozens) of lantern carriers, usually the young women of the neighborhood, after which comes the omikoshi directed by the more experienced members of the group using fans and whistles to signal both visually and audibly to the people carrying the omikoshi. It is impossible for any one single person to direct the omikoshi and sometimes they get stuck, move in the wrong direction or lurch dangerously to the side despite the best effort or dozens of team members. It is a remarkable thing to watch!
Other shrines or festivals that are famous for having at least one onnamikoshi are the Yasukuni shrine and the Sanja Matsuri in Asakusa. More photos from this fantastic festival to come!
If you are in Tokyo today you can do worse that to visit one of the three festivals in either Kiba, Jiyugaoka or this one, in Shimokitazawa’s Kitazawa Hachimangu Grand Shrine. Yesterday was the opening, with religious ceremonies and plenty of performances of traditional (and some not so traditional) arts and dances at the shrine’s Kagura, or “holy stage”. We luckily dodged the rain that plagued last year’s festival and hopefully we’ll be as lucky today as well! The festival continues tonight with omikoshi, lots more people and lots more performances!
There were many visitors dressed in Yukata, the traditional summer dress here in Japan, and one of them even had the cutest uchiwa I have ever seen, like a little cat.
This weekend it the big weekend of the year for the lovely Kitazawa Hachimangu in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward. Two full days of omikoshi, festival food, lots of people and great traditional performances. Last year saw lots of rain but there were a few moments when the skies let up and the omikoshi, the portable shrines could do the traditional runs up and down the steep stairs in front of the shrine. These omikoshi are quite heavy and there is really no safe way to control them once they get started so it is usually best to stay well clear of them, as one of the members found out when he was getting to close to the railings and had to escape. Luckily no one was injured last year and I hope this year’s festival will be safe and fun! Here’s some of my photos from last year! Enjoy!
The grand festival at the Kitazawa Hachimangu near Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa district is one of my favorites of the “larger” smaller festivals. There are so many things to see and lots of performances and some very very dedicated local people taking part in the festival. I took these photos in black and white at last year’s festival. This year’s festival is coming up in September!