Tokyo residents and small businesses welcome the gods in temporary homes built of bamboo, pine, and plum blossoms.
I love how the best ones are hand-crafted from pine, bamboo, and plum blossoms. They are intended to be temporary homes for the Shinto gods (kami, 神様). I like the idea that you can create a temporary house for the gods to visit at new year. The three heights of the kamomastu represent heaven, humanity, and earth- in descending order. The shimekazari are smaller, with Shinto rope holding charms such as oranges, folded paper, rice straw, and ferns.
Shimekazari (標飾り) and Kadomatsu (門松) are traditional New Year’s ornaments placed on walls and on the sidewalks outside shops and homes. The city simultaneously empties of people and fills with physical connections to mountains and spirits. This year I took photos of the widest variety I could find in the areas I visit on typical days: on a car bumper, outside a sento, next to a wall of cigarette advertisements, on a busy boulevard, outside a barbershop, pachinko parlor, 24 hour convenience store, and a department store.
After the holiday, these decorations should be burned at a shrine. By mid-January, they are already a faded memory.
See more photos after the jump.
I managed to visit the Hanazono festival in May twice, once during the day and once at night. In the nighttime, the lights, food, and atmosphere are magical. I particularly like the mix of the spiritual with eating and drinking. A large public space that normally serves as a quiet place with a few people stopping briefly for prayer becomes full of people and celebration.
Hanazono is particularly interesting because of its Shinjuku location in the heart of commerce, commuters, and night life. In all the festivals, the stalls sell the same types of food: yakisoba, okonomiyaki, hot dogs on a stick, fruit encased in clear candy, chocolate bananas, and newer imports like shwarma (called “kebob” in Japan). It seems that the stall operators travel from festival to festival, and I have heard that this business is controlled by the yakuza.
I like how everything that is separate in Western culture gets mixed together in Japan: prayer and eating, spirituality and fun, the sacred and the ordinary. Rows of lanterns hung high signal the special event and add an extra sense of festivity.
Near the Ikura crossing, close to Tokyo Tower, I saw this construction site with a shrine inside. It’s the wooden structure in the center of the photograph, resting on top of a storage shed or perhaps portable toilet.
I noticed that the building was going up next to a small shrine, because a formal concrete gate remains close to the construction area, perhaps on the same lot. However, I was most surprised by this tiny wood shrine within the construction site.
I wonder if the workers bring this small shrine wherever they work. Or if it is related to the shrine next to the construction site. In any case, I am amazed by the juxtaposition of modern building and sacred space; engineering and spirit protection; concrete, rebar, and wood.
Have any of my readers seen a shrine within a construction site? Are there shrines or gods that specifically protect construction workers?
The small shrine near our apartment is preparing for new year. The entrance gate has pine and bamboo decorations, and the tent is ready for the celebration. This shrine is very charming because of its small scale and its housing our extremely local gods. I have found myself drawn here several times this year, and I look forward to spending some minutes there to welcome the new year with the neighbors and the spirits that connect us with each other and this small part of Tokyo.