Alongside the worship of local dieties, who are physically carried through the streets, Tokyo matsuris bring clans together and express group identity with matching jackets. Sky Tree in the background provides a contemporary marker to what feels like a timeless ritual .
While much of “proper” Japan forbids the sight of tattoos, at festivals there is a proliferation of working class fashion, including large visible tattoos. I was equally struck by the long pink mane that makes the other fellow look like a punk version of My Little Pony. On-street drinking and smoking are also possible.
I love Tokyo when festivals bring neighbors into the street carrying portable shrines; eating, drinking and dancing on streets closed to traffic; and wearing traditional outfits. In May I went to Sanja matsuri in Asakusa as well as a festival at Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku.
Viewed from Asakusa, not only is Sky Tree bigger, but you can see more details of the lighting scheme. From Nakano, you hardly notice the blue light, and the more subtle red trim. I also like how the willow references Tokyo’s Edo past, and Sky Tree, although newly built, appears to be a 1960s’ vision of the future.
I’ve written before how Tori no Ichi is one of my favorite festivals, with its focus on seeking spiritual intervention for a prosperous year. Perhaps Asakusa is a more traditional place, but I particularly love attending the festival at Hanozono shrine, mid-way between Kabukicho, Ni-chome, and the department stores. The crowd is Tokyo’s most beautiful people: the world of late night drinkers, huge hair for men and women, animal prints, and shiny fabrics.
If it weren’t for the food stalls, it would be easy to miss the entrance on Yasukuni Dori, with the fiver rows of lanterns barely competing with the neon, fluorescent signage, and hundreds of taxis.
The focal point of the festival are the “kumade,” which are good luck rakes made of bamboo, rice, (often artificial) pine, and paper and plastic good luck charms hot glued. There are dozens of stalls, and the most expensive ones need to be carried out by two men. The one below cost 300,000 yen (almost US $4,000).
In addition to kumade sellers, there are many regular festival food stalls, and also make-shift drinking establishments with tables and chairs. I like how the one below wraps around a mature tree.
The convergence of spirituality, drinking and materialism is dizzying. The proprietress of this food and drink stall is wearing a headband full of cash.
Almost anything can represent good fortune. I love how this Kewpie doll, the mascot of Japan’s #1 mayonnaise, also has a headband of cash and a full body tattoo. There seems to be an even higher than usual correlation between this festival and the yakuza who are its sellers and celebrants.
Even the children’s cartoon Anpan man (his head is a round anko bread that can be eaten when necessary) can be incorporated into the rake.