No shortage of food or drink at Hanazono shrine’s Tori no Ichi festival.
Two different groups are occupying a Shinjuku ni-chome side street. At first I wondered why the leader was pointing at me. Then I realized he was giving me the peace sign. The in-between ritual time is just as fascinating as the heavy lifting of the portable shrines. I wish the streets were this lively every day.
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.
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.
With an entrance on Yasukuni Dori no wider than the average office building, the large Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku can easily be missed. Except in November, when the entrance is filled with lanterns and a giant rake, protected in plastic from the rain, for Tori no Ichi festival.
This festival centers around the sale of lucky rakes, made of bamboo and hot glued ornaments including rice, pine, gold coins, tai fish, and other lucky charms. One variation included all the Anpanman characters.
This year, I “sized up” from last year’s rake. The first day of the festival, I signed a new contract so I guess last year’s rake worked! I dutifully took last year’s rake back to the shrine, and added it to the pile of old rakes.
When you purchase a rake, the sellers gather around and clap wood blocks to wish you luck. I saw one rake purchased that cost 300,000 yen (yes, over US $3,000) and had to be carried by two men. Delivery is probably free when you buy such a huge one.
What makes this particular shrine fun is that all this spiritual and monetary focus caters to the Shinjuku nightlife world, as it stands in the center of Kabukicho, Golden Gai, and Ni Chome.
Because of the vagaries of the lunar year, this year there are three days this month for the festival (Nov 2, 14, and 26). There’s a superstition that when there’s three festival days, there is an increased risk of winter fires.
As fall turns to winter, I expect to hear small groups of people walking my residential neighborhood and clapping wood blocks to warn residents of the danger of fire. In the meantime, this oddly patched warning showed up at a train station. I wonder what word is underneath the English correction.
In Tokyo’s hot and humid summer, shade and trees are always welcome. I love how the entrance to Hanazono shrine faces busy Yasukuni Dori in Shinjuku, offering a physical and spiritual respite from traffic, commerce, neon, and host clubs.
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.
Starting in May, summer omatsuri festivals are a public celebration of the local gods that exist in even the densest, most commercial parts of Tokyo. One of my favorite festivals is at Hanazono Shrine, in between Shinjuku san-chome, Kabukicho, and Shinjuku ni-chome, an area of department stores, fast fashion, a station with more than 2 million daily commuters, nightclubs, host clubs, and gay bars.
Above you can see a temporary shrine being constructed with metal poles, bamboo, and paper symbols outside Isetan’s flagship department store.
The festival brings together long-time residents, small business owners, and even the large commercial enterprises. The above photo shows a small neighborhood shrine, where I had previously noticed seniors playing a ring toss game. When I visited during preparations, the old timers invited me to participate in carrying their portable shrine (see below) around the neighborhood and to the main shrine. Knowing how heavy the shrine is, I politely declined.