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Summer omatsuri festivals invite spirits to commercial areas

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.

A single manicured tree

By Tokyo’s standards, this residential yard is large. I love simplicity of the garden, viewed from the street: a long hedge, a bamboo fence, an orange tree in the background, and another heavily pruned tree that is dormant in the winter (maybe a cherry tree).

The star of the public face of the garden is the elaborate pine tree pruned into four rings.

I wonder if every few years, the gardener adds an additional ring. The design is at once simple and the result of regular care over years of growth. Like the finest traditional Japanese garden, this single tree combines nature and artifice, and conveys a relationship between people and other life forms. I like the generosity of the owner who shares this tree equally with passers-by and the residence’s inhabitants and guests.

The tree is, I think, called ゴヨウマツ or Japanese white pine in English (Pinus parviflora), a common bonsai and garden tree.