I have been to the famous Shinagawa Shrine near the little Shimbamba Station (新馬場駅) in Tokyo’s formerly seaside Shinagawa Ward dozens of times, but never when it has been this pretty and the weather this great! Founded in 1187 A.D. on the top of cliff overlooking the ocean it is now far from any water but still a great place to visit. I visited during the weekend, to enjoy the annual festival with its scary looking stair ascent for the omikoshi. More photos and history to come!
This weekend is practically shock full of festivals all over Japan, not the least all over Tokyo and nearby Yokohama! It is impossible to see even tiny part of all the festivals taking place so pick one or two and make the most of it! One of my personal favorites, and a good one for foreign tourists not used to or not very interested in hanging out with the huge crowds many festivals draw, is the comparably tiny Kuramae Matsuri, in Tokyo’s Taito Ward. The tiny shrine of Kuramae is not only so small that it flies under the radar of most festival aficionados, it also boasts what is often called the most beautiful Omikoshi in all of Edo. Granted, unless you are well studied up on the minute differences between different omikoshi, you are not likely to see much that is special, but the overall look of the omikoshi is nevertheless spectacular. You can use the tags at the end of the post to find more about this shrine, this omikoshi and this festival.
Many festivals feature taiko drummers giving performances once or twice along the festival route, when I visited the Kuramae Matsuri in 2013 I took these photos of a fairly large troupe doing their best to stay in the shadows, as the sun was fairly brutal that day. Taiko drumming is another one of the many “must see in real life” experiences that should be on the top of any tourist’s to see list when visiting Japan!
The great Sanja Matsuri is not the only festival taking place in Tokyo during the third weekend in May, one that is often overlooked is the comparatively tiny Onoterusaki Shrine festival in nearby Iriya. It is heaps more kid friendly and the local streets are basically taken over by kids and families having a good time. With just a couple of Omikoshi and a single tiny dashi it is a hundred times smaller than the nearby giant festival of Sanja. I took these photos of the kids in the local Hayashi team as they performed for the festival goers and the omikoshi teams. Hayashi is the name of the traditional kind of music you see and hear at festivals, always with at least drums and flutes, but sometimes other instruments or dancers are added. The kids were as great as ever! They’ll be professional by the time they grow up!
Easily one of the most seen but least visited shrines in Japan is the tiny Omatsu Inari Shrine very close to the large Omotesando street crossing. Technically the address of the shrine is in Minamiaoyama, but most people would recognize it as a place in Omotesando more than anything else. It has quite a few illustrious brand name shops for close neighbors so there are tens of thousands of people passing it most days, despite this I have never seen anyone enter it.
The name, Omatsu, which means large pine, comes from the fact that until 1839 there was a huge pine tree right on this spot, it grew so large that people would come to venerate it. As it broke during a storm a tiny shrine was erected over the tee stump and it remains there today, even long after anyone who has ever seen the pine has passed away.
Since then the shrine has found a second shot of fame after having been featured in the award winning drama writer Mukoda Kuniko (向田邦子) who moved into the the fifth floor of the apartment building just next to it in 1970. I think she lived there until she died in a plane crash in Taiwan in 1981.
The shrine itself, being an inari-shrine, enshrines the diety Ukanomitama, who is often shown as a fox in Japanese mythology. I took these photos at night. For some reason I think this shrine is best visited at night, when the obvious modern surrounds are a little less obvious, giving us a chance to imagine this shrine as it must have looked in 1839.