I love how this easy to grow vine sends its growth down. The owner has trained it over the street-side window so that it provides additional privacy. There’s also two types of bamboo shades, and three spider plants. I also like how the blue ceramic tile adds a decorative element to what is a very functional architecture typical of post-war Japan.
Omiya Hachiman shrine is near where my husband grew up in Suginami ward. It’s also next to a beautiful green corridor that follows the Zenpukuji river. I love the elegant building, and all the decorations including the purple cloth with Edo crests, the red and white stripes, the rope and lightning bolts, and the big lanterns.
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.
One of my favorite times in Tokyo are the September festivals, with portable shrine carrying and yukata-clad dancing happening in small groups up and down the main roads that pre-date the west-bound Marunouchi subway and Chuo train line. These photos are from Ome Kaido and Itsukaiichi Kaido.
The fall festivals connect city life with agrarian traditions, and by bringing the shrines into the road they literally bring the local spirits into view. I like the music, the costumes, chanting and dancing. But also the festival food stalls, lanterns, and crowds of seniors and high schoolers.
Visiting Chris and Eiko one recent Sunday, I had the chance to visit Kiyosumi garden in Fukagawa, and see the irises in bloom. Kiyosumi (清澄庭園) dates back to early Edo, and was then owned by the Mitsubishi founder in the Meiji period. It’s a lovely strolling garden with a pond. I had forgotten that June is the month to see irises, and I love how they are used in traditional Japanese gardens with running water and pine trees.
I was surprised also to see so many stone lanterns disassembled. Perhaps they fell down during the East Japan earthquake, and it’s prudent to leave them down in case of after shocks.
Between the new Miyashita park and Shibuya station, I came across this lovely alley called Nonbei Yokocho, full of tiny bars. Maybe because it’s next to the train tracks, a marginal urban space, this collection of old houses built before or just after the war have survived. I love the weeping willows, the lanterns, and the reminder of Shibuya’s earlier incarnations.
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.
These photos were taken yesterday evening in Jiyuugaoka, an upscale neighborhood between Shibuya and Yokohama. I was leaving Sinajina, and crossed this beautiful pedestrian area full of benches, mature cherry trees and small shops. Like many neighborhoods, an old stream was converted decades ago into a pedestrian plaza. This one is particularly beautiful because it’s well used and central to the neighborhood that radiates out from the train station. They have also added lanterns for hanami.
When people think of hanami, or cherry blossom season, they talk about famous and gorgeous parks like Ueno, Inokashira Koen, and Yoyogi. What amazes me are the many neighborhood boulevards lined with beautifully maintained cherry trees, as well as shrines and public schools which often have at least one great tree. In my neighborhood of Nakano, there is Nakano Street, Araiyakushi Temple, and the elementary school near our apartment.
The magic of cherry blossoms is how diffused and ubiquitous they are. No matter where you go, you see the pink petals above you. It will be a glorious 10 days throughout the city.