I missed all the shrine carrying, but what I really enjoy is the mix of the old and new, all taking place on streets full of people and closed to traffic. I like how this guy is casually wearing his happi jacket and no pants while talking on the phone and balancing on the prototypical Tokyo bike with kids seat and basket.
Onbashira’s most famous event is the swift and dangerous ride down the steep hill on the giant logs. Yet there are also many other images from the festival that struck me. Above are “chindonya” (チンドン屋), a Showa custom that mixes Edo and clown costumes, music, and drag to create a human walking advertisement.
I was also struck at how much Japan’s postal and rail services celebrate the festival. In an era where electronic mail makes the postal service seem like a relic, Japan Post regularly sets up booths at events and festivals to sell commemorative stamps. I also like how JR rail station agents have their own “happi,” or festival coats that combine their modern logo with designs that evoke sacred rituals and community.
Finally, I was struck by this enormously thick “enclosing rope,” in front of one of the Suwa shrines. These braided, rice straw ropes signal purification and ward off evil spirits. I have never seen one this thick. We were told that it was made for this year’s festival, and will stay until the next festival in six years time.
At this shrine, we met a group of seniors in their 70s. They had walked from Nihonbashi in Tokyo all the way to Suwa. The 200 kilometer walk took them ten days. Japanese are incredibly strong!
This month there are many neighborhood omatsuri, festivals organized by local shrines to celebrate the harvest. Like the summer omatsuri I wrote about earlier, the festivals include carrying portable shrines through the streets, taiko drums, music, costumes include happi and fundoshi, public eating and drinking, and much neighborhood socializing.
Above is a large night festival in Suginami, popular with young people. The long path to the shrine is lined with hundreds of food stalls, selling regional foods and even imported ones like shawarma (which Japanese call kebab). Chocolate-covered bananas, light-up horns, and beer all seem popular.
Several features of omatsuri are particularly relevant to Tokyo Green Space: the celebration in the city of a harvest festival, the use of streets for community gathering, the multi-generational bonds of community that are formed and maintained.
Last weekend, my local shrine celebrated with a kid’s omatsuri one day, and an adult one the next day. Each day the parade made a stop in front of my apartment building, turning the parking lot into a public festival. The supermarket offered free drinks and food, and I met several young fathers and kids who live in my building. The woman next door who tends an overflowing flower garden in the alley was at the shrine, watering the ground. She welcomed me and gave me a tour of the shrine area, which had portable structures and the doors open in the small permanent building. You can see it is surrounded by blue sheets for an impromptu seating area.
I was also struck by the mesmerizing music. A band played in front of the shrine: three drummers, a flute player, and a simple metal instrument that resembles a tin bowl. The Youtube video gives you an idea of how it sounds.
After the jump, you can see a few extra pictures showing how the procession takes over the main street.
Last weekend Tsukishima held a lively omasturi (festival) in the summer heat and humidity. The dog above is wearing a traditional happi, a short cotton jacket with a design showing group affiliation. Old and new Japan seemed to come together as this dog’s owner participated in this ancient ritual with his “chosen” family of two well-dressed dogs.
Connecting street festivals to the theme of Tokyo Green Space is the alternative use of streets, not for automobile traffic but for commemoration, community, leisure, and drinking. There is a relaxed atmosphere to Japanese festivals that bring a small-town feeling to the enormous metropolis.
The shrine (omikoshi) paraded through the street is incredibly heavy. This one is being lifted by at least 40 people, with spectators throwing buckets of water and spraying hoses.
A group of mostly elderly carpenters led the procession singing a haunting song. If you click on the YouTube video below you can hear the chorus followed by a soloist and then the chorus again.
And finally, a very short video clip of carrying the shrine and chanting.