Otsu Matsuri

Video link: http://youtu.be/52tjGe470eA

Here’s my video of Otsu Matsuri filmed last year on Oct. 12-13, 2013. Finally got it done and in time for this year’s festival on Oct. 11-12, 2014. It’s about 28 min. The video spotlights the karakuri mechanical puppets. I also got on-camera comments from foreign participants.

Otsu Matsuri is an annual festival of thirteen ornate floats (called hikiyama) held in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture during the weekend before the second Monday of October. It is a festival of in Otsu.

The floats were built in 17th and 18th centuries. Each one belongs to a different neighborhood in central Otsu. The floats are wooden, about 6 to 7 meters tall, and has three large wooden wheels instead of four (like Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri floats. They are gorgeously outfitted with intricate wood carvings, tapestries (from China, Korea, and even Belgium), paintings, and other art work. Art museums on wheels.

For more details about the festival, see my other blog post here.

Yoyogi Park closed

Due to the threat of mosquitoes carrying dengue fever from August 2014, Yoyogi Park has been closed to the public since September 4, 2014. Here are a few photos of along the fringe of Yoyogi Park on the weekend of September 20-21, 2014.

We just have to wait until colder weather for the mosquitoes to die. The birds, bugs, trees, etc., in the park must be happy to be left alone with no humans.


Yoyogi Park’s main gate is closed.


Even the perimeter of Yoyogi Park has been fenced off so we don’t walk too close.

A security guard patrols the fringe of Yoyogi park.

A security guard patrols the fringe of Yoyogi park. People walk past didn’t seem to be too concerned though. Although I did see one young lady spraying repellant on her miniskirt legs while walking.


This side gate is closed with mosquito warning signs.


Do not enter!!


Beware of mosquitoes!

Kyoto Gion Matsuri’s new boat float


Brand new Ofune-hoko. Click image to see more photos.

Meet Gion Matsuri’s brand new boat float, the Ofune-hoko (大船鉾). It made its debut in the Gion Matsuri procession for the first time on July 24, 2014, a week after the first and main procession on July 17.

The Gion Matsuri now holds two yama-hoko float processions. The first one on July 17 (Saki Matsuri) is still the larger one with 23 floats. The Ato Matsuri on July 24 has 10 floats including the brand new Ofune-hoko boat float which appears last in the Ato Matsuri procession.

The Gion Matsuri being designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009 was also very encouraging. The new boat float was estimated to cost ¥120 million. In Oct. 2011, the float’s wooden framework was completed at a cost of ¥30 million yen. The wheels cost another ¥30 million, roof ¥20 million, and ornaments and decorations ¥40 million.

Although the Ofune-hoko made its festival debut in July 2014, it is still not complete. It will take more years to finance and add more decorative items. They are still seeking donations (1,000 yen minimum). Website: ofunehoko.jp

Also watch my video of the Ofune-hoko in the Ato Matsuri followed by the Hanagasa Parade on July 24, 2014.

Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin Temple

Menuma Shodenzan

Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin Temple (妻沼聖天山) is Saitama Prefecture’s sole National Treasure building. It is a magnificent restoration of a 250-year-old building covered with intricate woodcarvings.

Menuma Shodenzan Kangiin temple was built during 1735 to 1760, taking 25 years. The woodcarvings all but lost their original color and splendor after 2.5 centuries under the weather. However, following an enthusiastic local campaign to restore the building’s artwork, the building was painstakingly restored. And what a magnificent job they did, taking seven years from 2003. Despite having modern sensing equipment, they sometimes still could not tell what the original paint color was for certain parts. A very time-consuming work.

But they were rewarded with the building designated as a National Treasure in May 2012. The restored building was opened for public viewing on June 1, 2011. Admission is 700 yen. Guided tours are conducted, but only in Japanese. You can freely walk around and view the building.



Monkeys hold up the building.


Menuma Shodenzan’s Kisomon Gate is unusual for its triple gables.

Menuma Shodenzan is about a 20-min. bus ride from JR Kumagaya Station. Go to Bus stop No. 6 near JR Kumagaya Station’s North exit.

More photos here.

Pharrell Williams HAPPY – Matsuri Version

Video link: http://youtu.be/FKchoOLG2TY

Pharrell Williams scored a huge hit with his song Happy last autumn. It has since become a worldwide phenomenon with people in cities around the world making street dance videos with the song. Pretty amazing.

It has inspired me to make the above HAPPY video of matsuri festivals. Matsuri is a common way for people in Japan to express being happy. You’ll be impressed by the great variety of festivals.

Okinawa Mensore Festa

Everybody loves Okinawa. Named Okinawa Mensore Festa (沖縄めんそーれフェスタ), a week of Okinawan entertainment and food was held at Sunshine City in Ikebukuro, Tokyo during May 30-June 8, 2014. I went to see the Okinawan dances and Eisa drummers on May 31, 2014. Held at alpa’s Fountain Plaza on the B1 basement floor. Free admission.

My video includes Yotsudake (classical Okinawan dance), Wakashu-zei, Martial arts dance with karate and martial arts movements, Kanayo, Mamidoka Kuroshima Kudochi (farmer’s dance from Ishigaki), and Eisa taiko drummers from Onnason village. Miss Okinawa (Miss Sky Blue, Keiko Takaesu) was also on hand to promote Onna village.

Book review: Kyoto: The Forest Within the Gate

by Philbert Ono

Whenever I see a new book about Kyoto, I tend not to pay attention. As if world-famous Kyoto needs another book for PR. There’s no shortage of books about Kyoto. And most of those books are rather clichéd. The book cover often has an image of Fushimi Inari Shrine’s torii tunnel or Ryoanji’s Rock Garden, or Kinkakuji Gold Pavilion. It seems that these people never thought of looking at what’s out there before deciding on a cover image.

So it was a delightful surprise to see Kyoto: The Forest Within the Gate, a totally different kind of Kyoto book. It is an excellent collaboration of fine-art B/W photographs of Kyoto by John Einarsen and English poems about Kyoto (mostly haiku) by Edith Shiffert.

John is the founder of the esteemed Kyoto Journal, started in 1986. He’s also a photographer and has been creating “serene” images of Kyoto for three decades. He has been a central figure in Kyoto’s expat community for almost as long.

John visited Japan for the first time in 1974 as a US Navy seaman in Yokosuka. That first visit was apparently unforgettable as he moved to Japan in 1978 and eventually settled in Kyoto by 1984. In June 2013, he was awarded the Japan Cultural Affairs Agency’s “Commissioner’s Award” for his contribution to making Japanese culture better known and understood internationally.

Edith Shiffert is 97 years old and another noted and well-know expat in Kyoto. She is a published poet and translator of Japanese poems. Born in Toronto, Canada, Edith grew up in New York and lived in California and even Hawai’i during the war years. She studied poetry at the University of Washington and published her first two poetry books (one titled, For a Return to Kona) in the early 1960s. She’s been in Kyoto since the 1960s and taught at local universities.

John’s 100+ photographs are impeccable. He makes Kyoto look fantastic. Making the ordinary look extraordinary. Whenever I think of Kyoto, my mind certainly doesn’t conjure up the dreamy and poetic images that you see in the book. It’s reassuring to know that such idyllic scenes and things still do exist in Kyoto, if you know where to look and how to look.

Edith’s 30+ poems in the book are easy to read and understand. Straightforward and clearcut. Even kids could understand them. Most of them are short haiku (with Japanese translations) and a few are longer poems. They are mainly about Kyoto’s seasons and scenes. I’m not sure if the photos complement the poems or if the poems complement the photos. It’s probably both, and this synergy makes me see why they decided to make this book.

There’s also Japanese calligraphy by Rona Conti, essays by Marc P. Keane, Diane Durston, and Takeda Yoshifumi.

The initial printing was made possible by successful crowdfunding via Indiegogo. They raised more than enough money last autumn. Congratulations to John and Edith for such a great collaboration in print.

The book is available at Kyoto Journal using PayPal or at Amazon.com (paperback).

Also see John explaining about the book in this video:

Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Festival 2014

Video link: http://youtu.be/BUBwjVAaKTw

The Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Festival (第17回渋谷・鹿児島おはら祭 ) is a dance parade held annually in Shibuya, Tokyo in May. I saw it on May 18, 2014. About 2,200 dancers in 63 troupes danced along the Dogenzaka and Bunkamura-dori main roads from 1:20 pm to 4 pm.

They danced to four songs played repeatedly. The most famous song was Kagoshima Ohara-bushi おはら節, Kagoshima Prefecture’s most famous folk song sung since the early Edo Period. The song mentions things and scenes in Kagoshima like tobacco and the Sakurajima volcano. They also danced to the more modern Shibuya Ondo 渋谷音頭 which mentions sights like Hachiko and Dogenzaka. One of Shibuya’s official songs.

During the intermission at 2:25 pm, lively performances by young dancers were held in front of the 109 building by Young Dance Troupe ヤング踊り連 from Kagoshima and the Baton Association of Universities in Tokyo 東京都大学バトン連盟. Both were very good. They danced to two songs: Tokyo Ohara TOKYOオハラ and Chesuto! Ohara チェスト!おはら. “Chesuto” is a shout/cheer (kakegoe) from Kagoshima’s Satsuma dialect.

I couldn’t shoot all 63 dance troupes that appeared. I got to film only around 30 troupes. There were too many of them and they moved too slow. Shibuya has historical ties with Kagoshima, and so this festival is held here.

Official Website: http://www.shibuyadeohara.jp/

Kurayami Matsuri Festival

Video link: http://youtu.be/jnmakAKAVmc

Video link: http://youtu.be/bGKzmjik5-k

Kurayami Matsuri (くらやみ祭) is Okunitama Shrine’s most important festival held annually during April 30-May 6 in the city of Fuchu in Tokyo, Japan. The main festival days are May 4 and 5. Kurayami means “pitch dark” in reference to it originally being a night festival with all the lights turned off.

It was pitch dark because humans were not allowed to see the god’s divine spirit being transferred from the shrine to the mikoshi and transported to the Otabisho rest place.

Today, the festival is well lit in the evening with paper lanterns. On May 4 from 5 pm to 6 pm, large taiko drums are beaten on the street. Then from 6 pm to 9 pm, 22 ornate wooden floats carrying musicians and dancers parade on the street in front of the shrine. This is shown by my first video above.

The second video shows the festival climax on May 5 with six large taiko drums followed by eight mikoshi portable shrines carried to the Otabisho. This mikoshi procession is called “oide おいで.” The mikoshi are placed inside the Otabisho until 4 am when they are carried out and returned to the shrine by 7:30 the next morning on May 6. The crowd is much smaller on May 6 although I didn’t see it on the 6th.

You will notice that the taiko drums are huge. In the old days, they used to ram the taiko drums at each other. Since a bigger taiko was more advantageous, the neighborhoods sought to make the larger drum. Finding a tree big enough in Japan is now almost impossible. The wood for large taiko these days is imported.

The shrine’s largest taiko (御先払御太皷) is one of Japan’s largest taiko with a skin diameter of two meters. The wood is bubinga.

The smallest taiko’s skin has a 1.29 meter diameter. People also stand on the taiko while it moves. The taiko drums are beaten to purify the path for the mikoshi portable shrines.

The ornate wooden floats feature musicians and comical dancers. The festival music is called Fuchu Hayashi (府中囃子) native to Fuchu. There are two schools: Meguro-ryu (lively music west of the shrine) and Funabashi-ryu (elegant music east of the shrine). They play the flute (笛), shime-daiko drum (締太鼓), large taiko (大太鼓), hand bell (鉦), and wooden clappers (拍子木). The flutist is like the music conductor who directs the music. He/She starts the song and directs the rhythm which the other musicians follow.

The eight mikoshi portable shrines all carry a different deity. They include six mikoshi carrying six deities enshrined at ranked shrines in the old Musashino Province. Fuchu was the government seat of the old Musashi Province which voers mainly western Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture. Okunitama Shrine was thereby the province’s most prominent shrine and the Kurayami Festival was the province’s biggest festival.

Okunitama Shrine (大國魂神社) was established in 111 by Emperor Keiko (景行天皇). The main god is Okunitama-no-Okami, god of nation-building. The same god worshipped by Izumo Taisha in Shimane Prefecture. The shrine is a short walk from Keio Line Fuchu Station and JR Fuchu Honmachi Station.

Kurayami Matsuri floats:
• Honmachi 本町
• Banba-cho 番場
• Katamachi 片町
• Honshuku 本宿
• Keyaki Wakaren 欅若連
• Minami-cho 南町
• Yazaki-cho 矢崎町
• Yashikibun 屋敷分
• Nakagawara 中河原
• Musashidai 武蔵台
• Kotobuki-cho 寿町
• Shinshuku-cho 新宿町
• Hachiman-cho 八幡町
• Koremasa 是政
• Shinseiku 新成区
• Oshitate-cho 押立町
• Shinshuku Sanya 新宿山谷
• Azuma-cho 東町
• Koyanagi-cho 小柳
• Shimo-someya 下染屋

Kurayami Matsuri Mikoshi:

• Ichinomiya 一之宮 Ono no Okami 小野大神 小野神社 東京都多摩市鎮座
• Ninomiya 二之宮 Ogawa no Okami 小河大神 二宮神社(小河神社) 東京都あきる野市鎮座
• Sannomiya 三之宮 Hikawa no Okami 氷川大神 氷川大社 埼玉県大宮市鎮座
• Yonomiya 四之宮 Chichibu no Okami 秩父大神 秩父神社 埼玉県秩父市鎮座
• Gonomiya 五之宮 Kanasana no Okami 金佐奈大神 金鑽神社 埼玉県児玉郡神川町鎮座
• Rokunomiya 六之宮 Sugiyama no Okami 杉山大神 杉山神社 神奈川県横浜市鎮座
• Gohonsha 御本社 Okunitama no Okami 大國魂大神 大國魂神社 東京都府中市鎮座
• Goryo-gu 御霊宮 Goryo no Okami 御霊大神 大國魂神社 東京都府中市鎮座

Ome Taisai Festival

Video link: http://youtu.be/rSWwkn6TkLg

Ome Taisai is a float festival held annually on May 2 and 3 in Ome, Tokyo, Japan. Twelve ornate wooden floats are pulled along the main street near JR Ome Station (about 1 hour train ride from Shinjuku Station). Each float has festival musicians and a comical dancer. This video shows all 12 floats and 9 performance stages. Shot on May 3, 2014, the main festival day. About 150,000 people come to see Ome’s largest festival. The float festival has been held since 1872.

Since Tokyo has mostly mikoshi portable shrine festivals, I really enjoyed this float festival as a change of pace. Ome Taisai is held by Sumiyoshi Shrine in Ome, the city’s main guardian shrine. Ome is a former post town along the Ome Kaido Road going from Shinjuku, Tokyo to Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture.

On May 2, each float is paraded around their own neighborhood. The main day is May 3 when all the floats are pulled along the Kyu-Ome Kaido main road parallel to Ome Station from 9 am to 7:30 pm. The floats are pulled by parishioners led by kids dressed as tekomai guardians. The floats also stop and perform together on the street. In the late afternoon, 6 or 7 floats gather to perform together. The street also has nine stationary platforms where more musicians and dancers perform.

Ome Taisai is a festival of Sumiyoshi Shrine established in 1369. In 1513, parishioners from five neighborhoods (Sumie-cho, Honcho, Nakacho, Kamicho, and Morishita-cho 住江町、本町、仲町、上町、森下町) held a spring festival to celebrate their renovation of the shrine’s Haiden hall. This was the beginning of the Ome Taisai. In 1872, the five neighborhoods started to pull ornate floats during the festival. After World War II, seven more floats representing other neighborhoods joined the festival. Most of the current floats were built relatively recently.

The five original floats were much taller with three tiers topped with a life-size doll. Overhead power lines installed in 1911 forced the floats to downsize and remove the mannequins. Those five dolls are instead displayed in their respective neighborhoods during the festival.

Ome Taisai Floats
Amagase-cho 天ヶ瀬町
Hinatawada 日向和田
*Honcho 本町
*Kamicho 上町
Katsunuma-cho 勝沼町
*Morishita-cho 森下町
Nishiwake-cho 西分町
*Nakacho 仲町
Oyana-cho 大柳町
*Sumie-cho (Miyamoto) 住江町
Takinoue-cho 滝ノ上町
Urajuku-cho 裏宿町
*Festival founding floats.

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