I spent yesterday in Fuji City, in Shizuoka Prefecture which is two prefectures over west from Tokyo, visiting the lovely and colorful Yoshiwara Gionsai, famous for its many dashi (mobile festival platforms). The festival was as great as ever, despite the tiny bit of rain that fell at the end of the festival. You would be excused for not believing that we were actually in the middle of the rain period here in Japan, but so far there has not been very much of it.
The main attraction of the Yoshiwara Gion Festival is the main street in Yoshiwara Honcho, where the different dashi are pulled up and down the streets by the members of the neighborhood they represent. The dashi are manned by kids and adults who play the more or less traditional music of these festival. When I say more or less I mean that Shizuoka is famous for being slightly more innovative in the music and rhythm sections of their festivals and the kids have quite a bit of freedom in deciding how they are going to perform. Most opt for the traditional way but there are a few far away influences to some of teams drumming or dancing!
This year’s second and last Torinoichi fell on a Saturday, and I figured the crowds at the original Torinoichi market temple would be immense but I was obviously not taking this seriously enough. When I arrived there were lines stretching towards the main entrance from both directions and there were signs that lots of people had spent a long night waiting in line. I have visited many Torinoichi markets in Tokyo but this was my first visit here. Next year I will have to be earlier! There was no way I was going to get in within any reasonable amount of time so instead I decided to head to the Torinoichi shrine in Shibuya, but that will be the subject of another post later this week! You can read more about this shrine and the tradition of the Torinoichi here.
November is getting closer and with it the annual torinoichi markets. You might have seen the often very colorful and excessively large kumade (熊手) at shops, homes and offices around Tokyo. The names can be very confusing, Torinoichi literally translates as Rooster Market (the bird) but it has nothing to do with birds. Also the kumade often called “rakes” in English are actually Bear Paws as the Japanese names makes it look like, but acutally large fan shaped bamboo structures traditionally decorated with masks and painted gold coins (koban). The name torinochi, bird market, comes from the tradition of holding these markets on the day of the rooster, which is every twelfth day in November. So each year there are two or three market days. The torinoichi days of 2014 fall on Monday the 10th and Saturday the 22nd. The first day is called Ichinotori (一の酉) and the second day is called Ninotori (二の酉).
The whole traditions started in Asakusa, at the famous Otori Shrine roughly around the 1750-1760 and were meant to celebrate the mythological Gods Ameno-Hiwashino-Mikoto and Yamato-Takeruno-Mikoto. The kumade are purchased and brought home or to your business to invoke good luck, fortune and success for the coming year or to give thanks for the past year. They are usually displayed near or at the home altar or somewhere in the office or in the shop. The bigger the kumade the more expensive they get so most of the people I know who buy these are small business owners, having them in your home is a bit more unusual but they would make for absolutely unique souvenirs.
The Otori shrine itself is not much to see on non-market days, it is rather small and crammed in between grey concrete office buildings but on the days of the torinoichi it comes alive with about 300 market stalls. The selling is very colorful and each transaction is marked with a rhythmic hand clapping, the customer and seller together.
The Otori shrine is located north of Sensoji in Asakusa, maybe a 15 minutes walk from the Asakusa subway station, but there are several other shrines organizing torinoichi markets around Tokyo and the kanto area. The most famous ones in Tokyo being in Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku and in Sensoji itself.
You can see the kumade and the ceremonies and the stalls at my older posts:
A tradition associated with this festival and shrine but which is completely gone now and will never re-appear is the opening of the gates to the Yoshiwara district. The small gated city within the city of old Edo was completely closed off to common people but on these market days it would open its gates to anyone and it was a great chance for the business owners inside the Yoshiwara to organize a small market and to earn a bit of extra income before the debt- and tax collectors would show up in December to demand the final payments for the year. The Yoshiwara district was opened to the public in the late 19th century, almost burnt down in 1913 and the last of the gates were destroyed in the 1923 earthquake. In 1958 the district was finally abolished by the government.
If you are in north-eastern Shizuoka prefecture this Sunday you might be interested in visiting the tiny but fun Yoshiwara Shukuba Matsuri, with small performances of many different kinds of entertainments and local youth. The biggest attraction would be for fans of one of the world’s youngest traditional dances, the Yosakoi. This little festival gathers several Yosakoi teams and the wide streets makes for an unusually un-crowded viewing. I took these photos at last’s years festival, and you can find more photos from another event at the same spot here.
The festival takes place in Shizuoka Prefecture’s third largest city, Fuji, in the Yoshiwara district. It is pretty easy to reach by local train or Shinkansen and when I was there last year there was even plenty of parking available.