At Tokyo’s famous Yasukuni Shrine earlier this year I saw a performance of Nihon Buyo, traditional Japanese dances, one of which was a rather funny mime dancer doing a near perfect fisherman routine. I have seen a lot of Nihon Buyo over the years but never something as funny as this. Unfortunately I didn’t get a program for the performance that day.
Few shrines in Tokyo has as great stages as Yasukuni shrine. Most weekends have something interesting being performed and since it is always free to watch it is always worth a visit. It is close to Kudanshita subway station or a not too far walk from Iidabashi train station.
This year too I made sure to visit the famous Yasukuni Shrine on the night of New Year’s eve. It was on last on my list of shrines to visit (the list was unusually long this year) and so things had quieted down considerably by the time I got there at around two-three in the morning. There were still thousands of people around and the line to the shrine altar was an hour long even at this time of night. The most photogenic aspect of New Year’s at Yasukuni was as usual the Scouts standing honor guard at several places around the shrine. How they manage not to kill themselves by pneumonia I have no idea! The fire is warm but at the distance where they stand it is barely perceptible. The new ema, showing the horse that symbolizes this year, was up, and there was a long line to buy the holy shinto arrows, good luck charms and fortune telling slips. Hatsumode is the name of the first visit to a shrine at New Years, and people do it individually, with their family or even with the office as a large group of workers visit the local shrine on behalf of their company or corporation.
The famous lion dance can be seen all over Asia, and of course also here in Japan. At most festivals there is a group of lion heads dancers, “shishi-gashira”, and they interact with the audience before or after the performance by biting the heads of people, something which is supposed to bring good luck and courage! It’s so much fun to watch how different people react to having their head chewed on by a giant wooden lion’s head. Some kids are really stoic about it while others cry, kick and scream to get out of it! I saw this duo perform for the visitors to the New Year’s celebration at Yasukuni Shrine.
Did you get your omikuji for the new year yet? Omikuji are random fortune telling slips that you buy at shrines and certain temples. You can buy them all year round but most people make sure to get one on the first few days after the new year. There are usually twelve levels of fortune, one of which is indicated on the slip you receive. Some slips are very detailed and contain specific advice and information regarding different aspects of your fortune but most people only look wether they get the highest ranked omikuji, the daikichi or the lowest, daikyou, or anything in between. A positive omikuji is supposed to be worn close to your body and most people put them in their wallets. Negative omikuji can be neutralized by tying them at certain places in the shrine or around the branches of trees or as in this case, tied to a rope tied around a holy tree. Most people then go on and get one more omikuji, looking forward to a better fortune this time! I took this photo at Yasukuni shrine near Kudanshita on New Year’s Day.