If you have visited a few shrines in Tokyo you are likely to have come across the concept of the Fujizuka (富士塚), which literally translates to “Mount Fuji Mound”. These mounts that are made to resemble the famous Mount Fuji are anything from a couple of meters to the biggest one at 15 meters, here in Shinagawa Shrine. The common theme is that they all contain more or less original lava stones from the real mount fuji, usually these genuine rocks are in very visible locations, more or less covering the mound. The first Fukizuka was constructed in 1780 at Takada in modern day Nishi Waseda (later relocated), and this Fujizuka in Shinagawa Shrine was built very late, which perhaps explains its size. In the old days all of these were built in locations where you could actually see the real Mount Fuji from the top, but due to the construction of tall buildings this has been lost. I think it is possible to see the mountain from this very tall Fujizuka though, but despite dozens of visits I have never managed even a glimpse.
If you visit the Shinagawa Shrine and the small and quite terrifying footpath to the top is open I recommend a climb, the views are quite good, and you can almost see down to the old Tokaido road, the main highway of old Japan. Another thing you will see a lot of are trains, as they pass right on top of the little Shimbamba Station, and if you have a keen eye you might spot the dozens of jets coming in for landing or taking off from Haneda Airport to the south west of the shrine!
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!