Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple

With the world-famous Tsukiji fish market moving from Tsukiji to Toyosu in October 2018, Tokyo’s Tsukiji area is undergoing major changes. After 83 years of Tsukiji being synonymous with Tokyo’s fish market, a glorious chapter in Tsukiji’s history has ended.

But every ending has a new beginning. The former fish market’s popular Outer Market with sushi restaurants and shops has been enhanced and will stay put to continue the Tsukiji brand. Also spreading its wings in Tsukiji is the venerable Tsukiji Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (築地本願寺), almost next door to the Outer Market.

Tsukiji Hongwanji is the Tokyo headquarters temple of the Jodo Shinshu Pure Land sect (Hongwanji School 浄土真宗 本願寺派), Japan’s largest Buddhist sect with over 10,000 temples in Japan and over 7 million adherents. It is also the largest traditional Japanese Buddhist sect outside Japan with about 200 temples and groups overseas, mainly in Hawaii (30+) and North and South America (100+). The mother temple is Nishi Hongwanji (World Heritage Site) in Kyoto. Tsukiji Hongwanji employs about 70 priests headed by Ohtani Kojun (大谷光淳 1977– ) who is also the sect’s 25th head priest (Monshu 門主) and descendant of sect founder Shinran (親鸞 1173–1263).

It is not to be confused with Higashi Hongwanji belonging to the Jodo Shinshu Otani School. (Note that “Hongwanji” is pronounced “Honganji.” It is spelled “Hongwanji” because that’s the way it was archaically romanized in the late 19th century when the sect started propagating overseas. It was before standardized romanization [Hepburn system] was popularly adopted in Japan and the sect has not changed this original spelling which remains the official spelling in English.)

Barrel vault roof shaped like a Bodhi tree leaf.

Enter Tsukiji Hongwanji’s front gate and behold an imposing Indian-style building unlike any other Buddhist temple in Japan. This is the main worship hall (Hondo) with the center roof having a barrel vault, shaped like a Bodhi tree leaf containing a lotus flower design. The design is similar to the Ajanta Buddhist Caves (Cave 9) in India. It is complemented by stupas on the left and right ends of the building.

Built in 1934 in ferroconcrete, the Hondo was designed by Ito Chuta (伊東 忠太 1867–1954), a renown architect who also designed Meiji Shrine, Yushima Seido, Heian Shrine, Haiseiden, and many other buildings. He had studied architecture in India, China, and Turkey. Tsukiji Hongwanji is one of his greatest masterpieces blending Indian, Western, Islamic, and Japanese design elements. He included many interesting little features like winged lions, animal sculptures, stained glass, and Islamic arches.

Go up the center steps to enter the main temple hall.
Winged lions at the bottom of the steps.

The original temple was first built in 1617 near Higashi Nihonbashi and called “Edo Asakusa Mido.” It was destroyed by the Great Meireki Fire in 1657, then relocated and rebuilt on reclaimed land aptly named “Tsukiji” (“built-up land”) in 1679. Called “Tsukiji Gobo” (築地御坊), it was a Japanese-style temple that faced what is now the Outer Market. The Outer Market area was originally a temple town with many secondary temples. Tsukiji Gobo was consumed by fire in 1923 caused by the Great Kanto Earthquake.

The temple was then totally redesigned and rebuilt in 1934 facing the direction it faces today, away from the Outer Market area where only three temples remain today. Tsukiji Hongwanji and the Outer Market have had a long joint history.

During World War II in March 1945, the Hondo luckily missed being firebombed. The Indian-style temple has thus survived to this day. In 2012, the temple’s official name was changed from “Hongwanji Tsukiji Betsuin” to “Tsukiji Hongwanji.” In practice though, people have always referred to it as “Tsukiji Hongwanji.” The nickname is now the official name. It has retained the archaic English spelling of “Hongwanji” (vs. “Honganji”) as part of its official name in English as do the sect’s temples in Hawaii. In 2014, the Hondo, temple gate pillars, and perimeter stone walls were designated as National Important Cultural Properties.

To enter the Hondo, pass the winged lions and go up the center steps to the second floor. The interior is impressive with an ornate ceiling, a large golden altar area, and a huge pipe organ in the back. Instead of tatami mats, there are 550 chairs. No need to take off your shoes. The interior blends Japanese, Jodo Shinshu, Indian, and Western design. Anyone can enter the Hondo for free (open daily 6:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.). An English brochure is also available.

Altar inside Tsukiji Hongwanji’s air-conditioned Hondo main worship hall.
Hondo main worship hall’s maximum capacity is 1,000 including standing room.
Carved ranma transoms in gold leaf. 欄間
There are English instructions on how to pray and offer incense.
A standing statue of Amida Buddha at the altar’s center.

The large altar is gold to symbolize the Pure Land. The gold leaf was completely redone in 2012 for the first time since the temple was built. The principal object of reverence is a standing Amida Buddha statue in the center. On the left and right of the main altar are secondary altars and sub-chambers for other subjects of reverence. On the right are a secondary altar for sect founder Shinran and a sub-chamber for Prince Shotoku Taishi (574–622) who introduced Buddhism to Japan.

On the left is an altar with a scroll painting of Shonyo (勝如上人 1911–2002), the sect’s 23rd Monshu (during 1927–1977) and former head priest of Tsukiji Hongwanji who widely spread the teachings even overseas. His real name was Kosho Otani (大谷光照), a cousin of the late Emperor Hirohito and the grandfather of the current Monshu. The left sub-chamber has the Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs (scroll paintings) named by Shinran as the key Buddhist monks in India, China, and Japan who helped develop the Jodo Shinshu religion. It is typical for temples of this sect to have secondary altars for Shinran, Shotoku Taishi, and the Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs.

Shinran on the immediate right of the main altar.
Seven Jodo Shinshu Patriarchs in Tsukiji Hongwanji.
You can see priests chanting in front of the altar daily at 7:00 a.m. (45 min.) and 4:30 p.m. (15 min.).
Tsukiji Hongwanji’s pipe organ pipes. The organ is on the lower right in the photo.

The back of the Hondo has the huge pipe organ with 2,000 pipes. It was donated by the Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Buddhist propagation society and installed in 1970. Played for weddings, services, and lunchtime concerts on the last Friday of the month at 12:20 p.m.–12:50 p.m.

Lotus flower stained glass above the Hondo’s front door.
Marble statues of Buddhist-related animals along the stairway to the Hondo’s 1st floor.
Memorial table for hide (X Japan) on the 1st floor lobby of the Hondo.

Another must-see “altar” is the memorial table for hide (pronounced “hee-day”), the legendary guitarist for the heavy metal band X Japan who died at age 33. Ever since his funeral was held at Tsukiji Hongwanji in May 1998 (attended by 50,000), fans have been paying tribute here by leaving memorabilia, letters, photos, and notebooks filled with handwritten messages even in English by foreigners. Perhaps this is the only major temple in Japan to have something like this for a rock star.

On the left of the Hondo, entrance to Mombo Hall.
Mombo Hall (聞法ホール)

On the left of the main temple hall is Mombo Hall (聞法ホール), a small worship hall. This is where the English Service and fellowship is held on the last Saturday of the month at 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. Check their web page for the exact schedule and guest sermon.

In 2017 for its 400th anniversary, Tsukiji Hongwanji started a new outreach project (“Tera to Project” 「寺と」プロジェクト) to make itself more integral, relevant, and helpful in the community. Indeed, their summer bon dance celebration is now a huge outdoor food fest attracting 80,000 over four evenings. People fill the chairs and tables spread over almost the entire area in front of the temple. Lots of people dance around the yagura tower too. The food booths are popular and a few are run by eateries from the Tsukiji Outer Market.

Tsujiki Hongwanji bon dance in early Aug. 2018.
Costume Night at Tsukiji Hongwanji bon dance. Also watch the hilarious video below.

A major part of this outreach project is the Information Center that opened in November 2017 left of the Hondo. It houses mainly Cafe Tsumugi (open every day 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.) along with a multilingual information desk, temple gift shop, lecture room, and bookshop (2nd floor). During the bon dance, the rooftop is open for diners like a beer garden.

Information Center opened in Nov. 2017.
Inside the Information Center, Cafe Tsumugi (open 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.) .
Cafe Tsumugi’s Japanese Breakfast with 18 Dishes (18品の朝ごはん).

Operated by the Pronto coffee shop chain, Cafe Tsumugi has an extensive menu for meals (Japanese and Western cuisine), drinks (including alcohol), and confections. They even have power outlets for laptops, tablets, etc. For breakfast served 8:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m., I had to try their “Japanese Breakfast with 18 Dishes” (18品の朝ごはん). The picture on the menu makes it irresistible. A colorful assortment of 18 dishes including rice porridge, miso soup, and flavorful bite-size dishes like salmon roe, eggplant, tofu, duck, and matcha jelly dessert. A few of the dishes like the fried egg and fish cake were made by famous eateries at the Outer Market. The number “18” refers to the 18th and primal vow (hongan) of Amida Buddha. Hot or cold tea is included. Definitely social media material.

Note that Cafe Tsumugi has become very popular for breakfast (8:00 a.m.–10:30 a.m.). They now distribute reservation tickets (seiriken) to the first 110 people in line for breakfast. It’s less crowded for lunch and dinner when no reservation tickets are required.

Temple gift shop inside the Information Center.

Tsukiji Hongwanji has other notable buildings, facilities, monuments, and even graves. The Hondo building has a modern building on both the right and left ends. The building on the right end is the Daiichi Dendo Kaikan (第一伝道会館) open to the public. It houses a tea lounge, restaurant, meeting rooms, and temple lodging facilities (3rd floor).

The left end has the Daini Dendo Kaikan (第二伝道会館) mainly housing the Rengeden worship hall (蓮華殿) for smaller funerals, weddings, etc., for up to 200 people.

On the right end of the Hondo, the Daiichi Dendo Kaikan (第一伝道会館).
Daini Dendo Kaikan (第二伝道会館) on the left end of the Hondo.
Rengeden worship hall (蓮華殿) in Daini Dendo Kaikan.

The left stupa houses the temple bell. On New Year’s Eve, the public can enter the left stupa to ring out the old year or ring in the new year. The right stupa is currently not used for anything.

Tsukiji Hongwanji’s left stupa houses the temple bell.
Temple bell inside Tsukiji Hongwanji’s left stupa (not open to the public).
On New Year’s Eve at Tsukiji Hongwanji, the first 350 people can enter the left stupa and ring out the old year from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. (Joya-e).
Hanamatsuri (Buddha’s birthday) on April 8 is another major event with a neighborhood parade led by a white elephant.

Next to the Information Center, the Goudoubo (合同墓) is like a communal gravesite opened in Nov. 2017. Compared to conventional cemeteries, it is a low-cost way to keep and maintain a grave for yourself and to assure that priests will keep praying for you.

Goudoubo (合同墓) communal gravesite and worship hall.
Temple gate pillars at the front gate (photo) and side gates are National Important Cultural Properties.
Perimeter stone walls are National Important Cultural Properties.
Statue of sect founder Saint Shinran, built in 1975.
Monuments and graves along the front perimeter. English provided.

With the fish market gone, Tsukiji Hongwanji and the Outer Market are destined to take the helm and continue working together for the betterment of Tsukiji and its visitors. I look forward to seeing how Tsukiji’s new era will unfold.

Tsukiji Hongwanji is closest to subway stations Tsukiji (Hibiya Line), Higashi-Ginza (Asakusa Line), Tsukiji-shijo (Oedo Line), and Shintomicho (Yurakucho Line). 
Map: https://goo.gl/maps/LocKLpvtNvs

*Special thanks to Tsukiji Hongwanji and Cafe Tsumugi for their kind cooperation for this article.

Website: http://tsukijihongwanji.jp/

*This article is an expanded version of my article published in via magazine, the onboard magazine of the Airport Limousine bus in the Tokyo area and lobby magazine at all branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan.

Other Tokyo Temple articles:

Koganji Temple, Sugamo (Winter 2019)

Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple (Autumn 2018)

Asakusa Sensoji Temple (Summer 2018)

Zojoji Temple (Spring 2018)

Awa Odori 2018 schedule in Tokyo-Kanto

This is the 2018 schedule of Awa Odori dance festivals to be held in the Tokyo/Kanto area (Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba Prefectures) from June to October 2018. Nobody has compiled such a schedule so I did it myself.

Most Awa Odori are held in the summer and a few are held in autumn. A few are held as part of a local festival like Tanabata. Most are held on two days, but a few are held only on one day. Some Awa Odori also have a festival eve events on the day before the Awa Odori.

Official websites usually have information only in Japanese. Click on the train station names to see a Google Map of that station. Double question marks (??) indicate unconfirmed info. Also, an illustrated list of essential Awa Odori vocabulary is provided at the end. (Great for people learning Japanese.)

Go to Schedule by Month:

June | July | August | September | October

Note for spectators:
Summer can be very hot and humid. Be prepared with cold drinks, ice pack, etc. Rain (including typhoons) is always possible. A raincoat is better than an umbrella in crowds. Watch the weather and be prepared. Heavy rain or storms can cancel the event. Take pictures/videos only from the sidelines, do not enter the parade route to shoot. Do not use tripods. Strollers should not be used. And no smoking.

Festivals can always be canceled in bad weather. Typhoons and rainstorms are always possible in summer. If the weather forecast looks bad, check whether the festival will be held.

*Awa Odori in Tokushima is held annually on Aug. 12th–15th, 2018.

*Awa Odori scheduled for July 28–29 may be canceled due to the typhoon.

東京・関東地方の阿波おどりの2018年の日程(英語)

Compiled by Philbert Ono, Updated: Aug. 25, 2018

–JUNE 2018 (6月)–

Hibiya Expo Oedo Matsuri 日比谷大江戸まつり (Tokyo)
・When: June 9–10, 2018, 10:00 am–8:00 pm (till 6:00 pm on 10th)
・Where: Hibiya Park, near Hibiya Station, Kasumigaseki Station, and JR Yurakucho Station.
・About: Only a few awa odori troupes appear in this parade of different festivals.
・Video:
・Photos:
・Official website: https://www.hibiyapark.info/2018/hibiya-expo-2018/

–JULY 2018 (7月)–

Koiwa Awa Odori 小岩阿波おどり (Katsushika-ku, Tokyo)
・When: July 7, 2018, 6:15 pm–8:15 pm
・Where: Near JR Koiwa Station, North Exit (JR Sobu Line).
・About: New awa odori that started four years ago. About 15 troupes.
・Video:
・Photos:
・Official website: https://koiwa-awaodri.jimdo.com/

Oedo Niiza Matsuri (Awa Odori) 大江戸新座祭り (阿波おどり) (Niiza, Saitama)
・When: July 21, 2018, 3:30 pm–7:30 pm
・Where: Near JR Niiza Station (JR Musashino Line), South Exit, Furusato Niiza-kan hall area.
・About: The Niiza Awa Odori was held for 32 years until 2014. It has been replaced by this Oedo Niiza Festival in 2015. It is now a local summer festival starting at 11:00 am and featuring a variety of stage entertainment and performers including a school band, hip hop, and samba dancers before climaxing with Awa Odori in the end during 5:05 pm–7:30 pm. About 20 Awa Odori troupes will dance.
・Video:
・Photos:
・Official website: http://www.ooedo-niiza.com/

Kagurazaka Matsuri Festival (Awa Odori) 神楽坂まつり(阿波おどり) (Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo)
・When: July 27–28, 2018, 7:00 pm–9:00 pm (Children’s dance on 28th from 6 pm to 7 pm) (JULY 28 CANCELED DUE TO THE TYPHOON)
・Where: Near JR Iidabashi Station (JR Sobu Line and subway lines), Kagurazaka Station (Tozai Line), Ushigome-Kagurazaka Station (Oedo Line).
・About: Held since 1972. Over 40 dance troupes and a total of 3,700 participants. The local troupe is Kagurazaka Kagura-ren with over 100 members.
・Video: https://youtu.be/wn7l7WB1ndc
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=698
・Official website: http://www.kagurazaka.in/kagurazaka_festival/47th_festival/

Kasei Awa Odori かせい阿波おどり (Nakano-ku, Tokyo)
・When: July 28 (4:00 pm–6:00 pm CANCELLED DUE TO TYPHOON) and 29 (5:00 pm–8:00 pm), 2018
・Where: Near Toritsu Kasei Station (Seibu Shinjuku Line).
・About: Held since 1979. About 10 troupes will dance along the narrow shopping street near the train station. Since the dance route is narrow, you can see the dancers up close. The dance route is cut in half (north and south) by the train line. Local troupe is Kasei-ren formed by the local neighborhood when the festival started.
・Video: https://youtu.be/62G4ZJHJSBE
・Photos:
・Official website: https://www.facebook.com/%E3%81%8B%E3%81%9B%E3%81%84%E9%80%A3-369020693216519/

Kitamachi Awa Odori きたまち阿波おどり (Nerima-ku, Tokyo)
・When: July 28, 2018, 6:00 pm
・Where: Near Tobu Nerima Station, South Exit (Tobu-Tojo Line). (DUE to the TYPHOON, to be held indoors at the Kitamachi Jr. High Gymnasium)
・About: Kitamachi is a small neighborhood near Tobu-Nerima Station. Over 20 dance troupe including local troupes from Kitamachi: Ponpoko-ren and Jajauma-ren.
・Video: https://youtu.be/du1UHBzhS1U
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=697
・Official website: http://www.kitamachi-awaodori.com/

Mobara Awa Odori (Mobara Tanabata Matsuri) もばら阿波おどり (Mobara, Chiba)
・When: July 28, 2018, 6:00 pm–8:10 pm (CANCELED DUE TO THE TYPHOON)
・Where: Near JR Mobara Station (JR Sotobo Line), East Exit, Sun City shopping street.
・About: Part of the Mobara Tanabata Matsuri to be held on July 27–29, 2018. On July 28, an opening ceremony will be held at 5:30 pm, and Awa Odori dancing will start at 6 pm. Eleven troupes will appear along a circular route starting and ending at Sogo Shimin Center.
・Video:
・Photos: http://www.mobara-tanabata.com/picture/awaodori2016.html
・Official website: http://www.mobara-tanabata.com/bbs2.html

Koganei Awa Odori 小金井阿波おどり (Koganei, Tokyo)
・When: July 28–29, 2018, 6:00 pm–9:00 pm (JULY 28 CANCELED DUE TO THE TYPHOON)
・Where: Near JR Musashi Koganei Station, North and South Exits.
・About: There are multiple dance venues near the station, making it less crowded at each one. About 24 troupes will appear each evening.
・Video: https://youtu.be/bEfUbibz9AA
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=932
・Official website: http://www.koganei-awaodori.jp/

Kanagawa Yamato Awa Odori 神奈川大和阿波おどり (Yamato, Kanagawa)
・When: July 28–29, 2018, 4:30 pm–8:30 pm (JULY 28 CANCELED DUE TO THE TYPHOON)
・Where: Near Yamato Station (Odakyu Enoshima Line and Sotetsu Line)
・About: About 16 troupes. On July 15, they also hold an indoor performance (“Zomeki Yamato”) in Yamato Geijutsu Bunka Hall (¥1,500 paid seating).
・Video: https://youtu.be/RFGHs7gD3jM
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=335
・Official website: http://awaodori.cside6.com/

–AUGUST 2018 (8月)–

Kojiya Awa Odori 糀谷阿波おどり (Ota-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 3–4, 2018, 7:00 pm–9:00 pm
・Where: Near Kojiya Station (Keikyu Airport Line).
・About: Two-day festival long a local shopping street with 10 dance troupes and 600 participants.
・Video:
・Photos:
・Official website: https://www.facebook.com/%E7%B3%80%E8%B0%B7%E5%95%86%E5%BA%97%E8%A1%97-%E9%98%BF%E6%B3%A2%E8%B8%8A%E3%82%8A-1390477227662992/
https://ota-tokyo.com/ja/%e7%b3%80%e8%b0%b7%e9%98%bf%e6%b3%a2%e3%81%8a%e3%81%a9%e3%82%8a/

Higashi-Rinkan Awa Odori (Summer Wanival) 東林間サマーわぁ!ニバル (Sagamihara, Kanagawa)
・When: Aug. 4–5, 2018, 5:20 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near Higashi-Rinkan Station (Odakyu Enoshima Line, local train only, do not ride any express trains).
・About: Quite a big event with over 20 troupes on each day. Local troupes from Sagamihara are Higashi-Rinkan-ren, Hotaru-ren, Goraku-ren, Aun-ren, Hiyori-ren, and Issui-ren.
・Video: https://youtu.be/Bmv5ppFXt4s
・Photos: https://higashirinkan-awaodori.com/2017album/
・Official website: https://higashirinkan-awaodori.com/

Naka-Meguro Summer Festival 中目黒夏まつり (Meguro-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 4, 2018, 6:00 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near Naka-Meguro Station (Tokyu Toyoko Line and Hibiya Line).
・About: It’s a two-day summer festival. The first day (Aug. 4) features Awa Odori (27 troupes) and the second day (Aug. 5) has yosakoi dancers (33 groups). At 5:30 pm on both days, there’s an opening ceremony. They dance along the shopping streets next to the train/subway station, but the streets are narrow and it’s mostly standing room only. Normal people also walk along the streets so it can be hard to get good photos. But you get to see the dancers and musicians up close.
・Video: https://youtu.be/V6TnqV9OWww
・Photos:
・Official website: http://www.e-nakameguro.com/

Sayama Irumagawa Tanabata Matsuri (Awa Odori) 狭山入間川七夕まつり (Sayama, Saitama)
・When: Aug. 5, 2018, 4:30 pm–6:30 pm??
・Where: Near Sayama-shi Station (Seibu Shinjuku Line).
・About: Two-day summer festival featuring a variety of performers and events. Fireworks on the first evening and Awa Odori on the second day from 4:30 pm–6:30 pm?? Eight Awa Odori troupes will dance.
・Video: https://youtu.be/4B9EeVNifyU
・Photos: http://www.city.sayama.saitama.jp/manabu/photonews/tanabata/2017/0806.html
・Official website: http://www.city.sayama.saitama.jp/manabu/mainevent/tanabata/
https://www.facebook.com/tanabata.sayama

Kumegawa Awa Odori 東村山久米川阿波おどり (Higashi-Murayama, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 18, 2018, 6:00 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near Kumegawa Station (Seibu Shinjuku Line) and Yasaka Station (Seibu Tamako Line), Wing-dori, Shopping Promenade Yasaka.
・About: Local troupe is Kumegawa-ren.
・Video:
・Photos: http://kumegawaawa.wixsite.com/kumegawaawaodori/phot
・Official website: http://kumegawaawa.wixsite.com/kumegawaawaodori
https://ja-jp.facebook.com/KumegawaAwaodori

Mitaka Awa Odori 三鷹阿波おどり (Mitaka, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 18–19, 2018, 6:00pm–9:00 pm
・Where: Near JR Mitaka Station, South Exit (JR Chuo Line).
・About: About 26 troupes parading on a straight road along the shopping street. Many troupes are from Mitaka like Inokashira-ren, Mitaka-ren, and Rhythm-ren.
・Video: https://youtu.be/dlc_WrHMK0g
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=763
・Official website: http://awaodori.mitaka.ne.jp/

Shimo-Kitazawa Ichibangai Awa Odori 下北沢一番街 阿波おどり (Setagaya-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 18-19, 2018, 6:30 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near Shimo-Kitazawa Station, North Exit (Inokashira Line and Odakyu Line).
・About: Held along the Ichibangai shopping streets.There will be around 12 dance troupes on both nights, including Hifumi-ren and Yattoko-ren which are from Shimo-Kitazawa. One troupe will be for anyone to join in and dance (tobi-iri-ren). From 8:10 pm to 8:30 pm, each troupe will give a dance performance at designated places. Note that the streets are quite narrow with little room to sit. It’s basically a standing room-only festival.
・Video:
・Photos:
・Official website: http://www.shimokita1ban.com/en/awaodori

Ontake Furusato Odori おんたけ ふるさと踊り (Ota-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 19, 2018, 6:00 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near Ontakesan Station (Tokyu Ikegami Line).
・About: A two-day dance festival with a Bon dance held on the first night (Aug. 18) and Awa Odori on the second night. There will be around five Awa Odori dance troupes. Most are quite famous in Tokyo. The local troupes includes Kusunoki-ren.
・Video:
・Photos:
・Official website: https://otakushoren.com/cp-bin/wp/events/10501

Koenji Awa Odori (Koenji, Suginami-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 25–26, 2018, 5:00 pm–8:00 pm
・Where: Near JR Koenji Station (JR Chuo Line) and Shin-Koenji Station (Marunouchi subway line).
・About: Tokyo’s biggest Awa Odori with over 50 dance troupes each evening and a million spectators over the two days. There are multiple venues or roads where they dance. The larger roads are very crowded, but the narrower parade paths are less crowded. Go early if you want to sit in a good spot.
・Video: https://youtu.be/SEBnCpKYk0Y
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=337
・Official website: http://koenji-awaodori.com/

Minami-Koshigaya Awa Odori 南越谷阿波おどり (Koshigaya, Saitama)
・When: Aug. 25–26, 2018, 4:20 pm–9:00 pm
・Where: Near JR Minami-Koshigaya Station (JR Musashino Line) and Shin-Koshigaya Station (Tobu Skytree Line).
・About: Big Awa Odori with about 80 troupes over the festival period. Four dance venues including a stage and indoor hall. Festival eve on Aug. 24 at 7:00 pm–9:00 pm at the Koshigaya Community Center. They will also have dancers performing inside the Koshigaya Community Center on both days.
・Video: https://youtu.be/upPtDNPwkuI
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=762
・Official website: http://www.minamikoshigaya-awaodori.jp/

Otsuka Awa Odori 東京大塚阿波おどり (Toshima-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 25, 2018, 4:30 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near JR Otsuka Station, South Exit (Yamanote Line), Shin-Otsuka Station (Marunouchi Line).
・About: For the festival eve the night before on Aug. 24 at 5:00 pm, dances will be performed in the Minami Otsuka Hall. This is one of the samller and less crowded Awa Odori in Tokyo. Probably because it is held at the same time as much bigger Awa Odori.
・Video: https://youtu.be/4nbHIEBr2IA
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=764
・Official website: http://ohtsuka-awaodori.com/

–SEPTEMBER 2018 (9月)–

Inagi Awa Odori 稲城阿波おどり大会 (Inagi, Tokyo)
・When: Sept. 1, 2018, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm
・Where: Near Keio Yomiuriland Station (Keio Line).
・About: Dance venues are in front of the train station and nearby streets. Not crowded at all.
・Video: https://youtu.be/_7Snv0SCuVU
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=702
・Official website: https://www.facebook.com/inagiawaodori/

Kita-Urawa Awa Odori 北浦和阿波おどり (Saitama city, Saitama)
・When: Sept. 1, 2018, 5:00 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near Kita-Urawa Station (JR Keihin-Tohoku Line).
・About: This is the finale of the local Urawa Matsuri festival held since July. A music parade first starts at 4 pm before the Awa Odori at 5 pm. About 16 troupes appear.
・Video: https://youtu.be/hixFsWqpa9E
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=767
・Official website: http://www.kitaurawa.or.jp/

Nakamurabashi Awa Odori 中村橋阿波おどり (Nerima-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Sept. 2, 2018, 5:30 pm–8:30 pm
・Where: Near Nakamurabashi Station (Seibu-Ikebukuro Line).
・About: Held annually on the first weekend of Sept. There will be 12 dance troupes and 600 people in the parade. On the festival eve on Sat. the day before, they will have entertainment and flea market from 2:30 pm to 8:30 pm.
・Video: https://youtu.be/woBn4SoSsmk
・Photos: http://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=768
・Official website: http://nyanpy.com/

Hatsudai Awa Odori 初台阿波踊り (Hatsudai, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Held annually on Sept. 22–23, starts at 6:45 pm and ends at around 9:00 pm.
・Where: Near Hatsudai Station (Keio Line).
・About: Dance route is about 1 km long, starting near Hatsudai Station. One long route. Started in 1970 to join the Yoyogi Hachimangu Shrine’s main festival and revitalize the shopping street. Local troupes include Hatsuda-ren, Chibikko-ren, Fuji-ren, Yiko-ren, and Koburyu-ren.
・Video:
・Photos: http://hatsudai.ne.jp/awaodori/photo/index.html
・Official website: http://hatsudai.ne.jp/awaodori/
https://www.facebook.com/hatsudaiawaodori

–OCTOBER 2018 (10月)–

Kawasaki Awa Odori かわさき阿波おどり (Kawasaki, Kanagawa)
・When: Oct. 6, 2018, 4:00 pm–8:00 pm
・Where: Near Keikyu Kawasaki Station (Keihin Kyuko) and JR Kawasaki Station (JR Keihin Tohoku and Tokaido Lines).
・About: Started in 1986. About 15 troupes (over 600 performers) will dance.
・Video:
・Photos: http://www.kawasaki-awaodori.com/memory.html
・Official website: http://www.kawasaki-awaodori.com/

Misato Awa Odori (Japan Festa Autumn) みさと阿波おどり (Misato, Saitama)
・When: Oct. 28, 2018, 10:00 am–3:00 pm
・Where: Misato Park (From JR Kanamachi Station on the JR Joban Line, take the bus bound for Misato Station or Misato Chuo Station and get off at Takasu-chiku Bunka Center Iriguchi. Or from Misato Station on the JR Musashino Line or Misato Chuo Station on the Tsukuba Express Line, take a bus bound for Kanamachi Station Minami-guchi and get off at Misato Koen-mae.)
・About: Festival featuring not only awa odori, but also taiko drummers. Misato Park is on the border with Katsushika Ward’s Mizumoto Park in Tokyo.
・Video:
・Photos:
・Official website: http://www.geocities.jp/satoplco/awa/awa.htm

–AWA ODORI ESSENTIAL VOCABULARY (Illustrated)–

Awa Odori (阿波おどり)

Awa Odori (阿波おどり or 阿波踊り) – Dance of Awa Province. “Awa” is the old name for present-day Tokushima Prefecture where the dance originated. “Awa” does not mean “bubble” (泡) in this case. “Odori” means “dance.” It is based on the bon dance to welcome returning spirits of the deceased.

ren (連)

ren (連) – Awa Odori dance troupe. The troupe’s name is tagged with “ren” at the end. A few troupes use a different tag instead of “ren.” A troupe consists of child, male, and female dancers and musicians. At the head is a pole lantern bearing the name of the troupe. “Jimoto-ren” (地元連) is a troupe from the place where the Awa Odori is held. And “shotai-ren” (招待連) are invited troupes.

Niwaka-ren (にわか連) – Dance troupe for anyone to freely join in and dance (tobi-iri sanka). No special costume required. Easy to spot since they wear no uniform and look disorganized. Some Awa Odori festivals have a Niwaka-ren. Or sometimes at the end, anyone can join in with the dance troupe.

embujo (演舞場)

embujo (演舞場) – Dance venue where the troupes dance for spectators. This is usually a section of a street or large avenue. There may be bleachers or just a sidewalk where people can sit and watch. The bleachers are for paid seating. The venue may also be called “kaijo” (会場) which is a generic term for venue and may be numbered.

Nagashi-odori (dance parade)

nagashi-odori (流し踊り) – Dancers dance while moving down the road in a parade.

kumi-odori (組踊り)

kumi-odori (組踊り) – Instead of moving in a parade, the dancers perform in one location for a prolonged period around 15-20 min. It could be a special area along the parade route or a stage. Often performed as the final number.

otoko odori (男踊り)

otoko odori (男踊り)

otoko odori (男踊り) – Men’s dance where they crouch low with the knees pointed outward. They usually wear a happi coat, shorts, and tabi socks. They may also dance with an uchiwa fan or paper lantern. Children and women can also dance the men’s dance. In the troupe, otoko odori usually appears before the onna odori.

onna odori (女踊り)

onna odori (女踊り) – Women’s dance. They wear a yukata, crescent-shaped hat, and wooden geta clogs. They dance in various formations while hopping on their clogs. Elegant-looking and the troupe’s main members.

aho (阿保)

aho (阿保) – Fool. Awa Odori dancers shake their hands above their heads. This is happens to be the Japanese gesture to indicate one’s idiocy. So it is nicknamed the “fool’s dance.”

“Yatto-sa! Yatto-sa!” (ヤットサーヤットサー)

“Yatto-sa! Yatto-sa!” (ヤットサーヤットサー) – “Yatto-sa, yatto-yatto, yoisa, yatto-sa!” A dance cheer often shouted by dancers. It means, “Long time no see! How have you been?” This is not normal Japanese.

yakko odori (やっこ踊り)

yakko odori (やっこ踊り) – Kite dance with an acrobatic dancer miming as a kite controlled by a kite handler with an invisible string. Humorous and dramatic especially when the kite does cartwheels and somersaults. Only a few troupes perform the kite dance.

kane (鉦)

fue (笛)

shamisen (三味線)

taiko (太鼓)

narimono (鳴り物) – Musicians. They appear at the end of the dance troupe and consist of flute players (fue 笛), shamisen players (三味線), bell player (kane 鉦) who sets the rhythm, and taiko drummers at the end.

Sensoji Temple in Asakusa

Sensoji Temple’s Hondo main hall.

“If you don’t visit Asakusa, you haven’t seen Tokyo” is what I always tell my tourist friends visiting Tokyo, even those who don’t like crowds or tourist traps. Amid this megacity’s modernity, Asakusa is an oasis of Tokyo’s “old town.” Asakusa’s fame and popularity is owed to Sensoji Temple (浅草寺), Tokyo’s most famous and popular Buddhist temple also called “Asakusa Kannon Temple.”

Kaminarimon Gate, symbol of Asakusa (and Tokyo).

The iconic symbol of Sensoji Temple and Asakusa is Kaminarimon Gate or “Thunder Gate,” the temple’s main gate with a giant red paper lantern. It is one of Japan’s most photographed buildings and a prime spot for “I’m in Tokyo” selfies. Both the gate (rebuilt in 1960) and giant paper lantern were donated by a major Japanese electronics company (Matsushita aka Panasonic). The giant paper lantern can be collapsed from the bottom up to make way for portable shrines, etc., passing through.

Bird’s eye view of Kaminarimon Gate, Nakamise, and Sensoji from the eighth floor of the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center.
Nakamise in spring.
Japanese souvenirs galore at Asakusa Nakamise.

Right after Thunder Gate is the Nakamise-dori path (仲見世通り) of touristy souvenir shops leading to Sensoji Temple. They sell just about all the Japanese trinkets you can imagine, including T-shirts, kimono (yukata), and happi coats. Lots of edible things too, like chestnuts and fried manju.

Nakamise ends with Hozomon Gate (宝蔵門) housing another large paper lantern and a pair of Nio guardians protecting the temple. Hozomon Gate (“Treasure Storage Gate”) was reconstructed in 1964 with ferroconcrete. The second floor houses Important Cultural Properties (not open to the public). The back of the gate has a pair of giant straw sandals to scare away evil spirits fearful of the giant guardian the sandals belong to.

Approaching Hozomon Gate.
Back of Hozomon Gate with a pair of giant straw sandals.

After Hozomon Gate is the heart of Sensoji Temple (and Asakusa) with the picturesque five-story pagoda and Hondo main hall. Before entering the main hall, you may want to catch some smoke from the incense burner. Worshippers scoop the smoke to the parts of their bodies they want to heal. Students studying for entrance exams might fan some smoke to their heads.

Incense burner and Hondo hall.
Incense can be bought nearby.

The main hall has a traditional design, but it was rebuilt in 1958 with ferroconcrete after the previous building from the 17th century was destroyed during World War II. Sensoji’s main hall has been destroyed (by fire, lightning, earthquakes, war, etc.) and rebuilt almost 20 times throughout the centuries. It is Sensoji’s largest building and similar in design to the previous Hondo built in 1649. Inside is a large altar for Kannon (kept hidden), popularly called the “Goddess of Mercy.” It is actually a benevolent, female Bodhisattva. Sensoji used to belong to the Tendai Buddhist sect, but it is now an independent Buddhist temple and sect.

Steps to Sensoji ‘s main hall.
Inside the Hondo main hall, paintings of heavenly beings and a dragon on the ceiling.

The five-story pagoda was reconstructed in 1973 with ferroconcrete. The top floor stores some ashes of the Buddha brought from a temple in Sri Lanka in 1966. Its corroding aluminum roof tiles were replaced with titanium tiles in 2017.

According to legend, in 628, two fishermen brothers, Hamanari and Takenari Hinokuma, found a golden Kannon buddha statue while fishing in Sumida River. Their mentor Hajinoma Nakatomo recognized the statue’s religious significance, became a monk, and converted his home into a small temple for the statue. This temple eventually grew to become Sensoji, and Asakusa also developed and prospered. Considered to be the founders of Asakusa, these three men have been deified by Asakusa Shrine (adjacent to Sensoji Temple) and honored annually by the Sanja Matsuri in May, one of Tokyo’s biggest festivals.

Sanja Matsuri and a portable shrine in front of Sensoji (Hozomon Gate in the background).

Sensoji’s main hall, pagoda, and Hozomon Gate have been recently reroofed with titanium roof tiles instead of traditional clay tiles. Since the titanium roof tiles can be painted to look like traditional roof tiles, you can’t tell the difference. Titanium roof tiles are much more expensive than clay tiles, but they are much cheaper to maintain due to their high strength, durability, and corrosion resistance to acid rain and salt air. Titanium tiles are also much lighter and smaller than clay tiles to make the building much less top heavy. Top-heavy, Japanese-style buildings are more prone to collapse in a major earthquake.

Sensoji and Asakusa hold numerous festivals and events throughout the year. During New Year’s, the temple is crowded with worshippers praying for a prosperous and safe year. On Feb. 3, there is Setsubun when they throw lucky beans. In April, see the elegant White Heron Dance (Shirasagi-no-Mai), Asakusa Yabusame horseback archery, and Hanamatsuri or Buddha’s birthday. Also in April, in a neighborhood behind Sensoji, the Ichiyo Sakura Matsuri Oiran Dochu is a pretty procession of Oiran courtesans.

In mid-May, Asakusa’s biggest festival called Sanja Matsuri is held with many portable shrines paraded along the streets. In summer, the Hozuki Festival Hozuki Ground Cherry Pod Fair is held on in early July. In late August, the lively Asakusa Samba Carnival is held. In mid-Dec., the Hagoita Battledore Festival is held. For exact dates, see http://e-asakusa.jp/en/category/event

New Year’s worshippers approaching Sensoji.
Setsubun bean throwing on Feb. 3.
White Heron Dance on second Sun. of April and on Nov. 3.
Five-story pagoda and Sanja Matsuri portable shrine passing through in mid-May.
Hozuki Festival Hozuki Ground Cherry Pod Fair in July.
Hagoita Battledore Festival in Dec.
Asakusa Geisha Ozashiki Odori dance.

Asakusa also has genuine geisha since it has historically been a geisha district. They kindly hold free geisha dance performances in spring and autumn at the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center. (Video here.) Check the performance schedule here: http://e-asakusa.jp/en/culture-experience/5890

Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center

When in Asakusa, be sure to visit the Asakusa Culture Tourist Information Center near Kaminarimon Gate and Asakusa Station (Ginza and Toei Asakusa subway lines, Tsukuba Express, and Tobu Skytree Line). It’s in the distinctive eight-story building designed by Kengo Kuma (who also designed the 2020 Tokyo Olympics main stadium). You can’t miss it. They have English-speaking staff and brochures in English. The eighth floor terrace also gives great views of Asakusa. No matter when you visit Asakusa, there’s always something going on. A truly blessed place.

More Asakusa photos here: http://photoguide.jp/pix/index.php?cat=8

*This article is an expanded version of my article published in via magazine, the onboard magazine of the Airport Limousine bus in the Tokyo area and lobby magazine at all branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan.

Other Tokyo Temple articles:

Koganji Temple, Sugamo (Winter 2019)

Tsukiji Hongwanji Temple (Autumn 2018)

Asakusa Sensoji Temple (Summer 2018)

Zojoji Temple (Spring 2018)

1 2 3 4 5 46