Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Festival 2014

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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.

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Kurayami Matsuri Festival

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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

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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.

White Heron Dance in Asakusa 2014

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The White Heron Dance (Shirasagi-no-Mai) was very elegant in front of Sensoji temple in Asakusa, Tokyo on April 13, 2014. I caught them walking through Nakamise leading to Sensoji temple. This video shows the entire dance in front of the temple performed at 3:30 pm. I also saw them perform on the roof of Matsuya Dept. Store in Asakusa at 2:30 pm. The Shirasagi-no-Mai White Heron Dance is held in Asakusa on the second Sunday of April, mid-May for the Sanja Matsuri, and on Nov. 3.

The dance originated at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto about 1,000 years ago to ward off epidemics and pray for good harvests. The local Asakusa tourist association resurrected the dance in 1968. A picture scroll showed that it was performed in 1652 at Sensoji temple.

More photos here.

Cherry blossoms in Tokyo 2014

Cherry blossoms at the Imperial Palace’s Chidorigafuchi moat was superb.




Also, for the first time, they allowed the public to enter the Imperial Palace to view cherry blossoms along a short path called Inui-dori during April 4-8, 2014. An insane number of people showed up. On the first day April 4, 2014, over 55,000 people came to see the Inui-dori sakura. Although it was open until 3 pm, they closed it by 1:30 pm due to the huge crowds.

Visitors went through a body search at the Imperial Palace.


I couldn’t get in when I arrived at 2 pm. Too late. People waited for 2-3 hours to get in.

Click on the images above to see more images.


Final plum blossoms in Ome

Yoshino Baigo

Yoshino Baigo Plum Blossom Garden, Ome, Tokyo

Very sad to hear that all the plum trees in Ome, Tokyo’s Yoshino Baigo will be cut down in an attempt to stop the spread of the plum pox virus. The virus has infected the trees since 2009. They’ve been cutting down the infected trees and surrounding trees every year since then. However, even after destroying hundreds of plum trees, the virus has not been eradicated. After this year’s plum blossom festival ends on March 31, 2014, they will cut down all the trees.

We won’t see another plum blossom festival in Ome for at least several years until they replant. Now is the time to see it if you can. More photos here.

Tokyo Marathon 2014

Tokyo Marathon was held on Feb. 23, 2014. Here’s a collection of the most outstanding and incredulous costumes. I was near Suitengu Station which was about 10 km from the finish line.

Monkey head

Monkey head

This guy was running with his bride with heart-shaped balloons.

This guy was running with his bride with heart-shaped balloons.


Japan mailbox. Painted on his face is the symbol of the Japan post office: 〒


Jesus Christ, barefoot!


Well coordinated.

From another planet.

From another planet.


Carrying a surfboard while wearing rubber slippers.


The biggest costume I saw. Couldn’t get a clear shot though.


Very popular mascot named Funasshi, from Funabashi, Chiba.




Santa Claus with a big bag of presents.


Geta clogs matching his monk costume.




Cross dressers galore


Tuba player




Yep, these costumes can get hot.


Golden frog. The note from his mouth says, “Feed me” (as in money).


Man named Joseph. He’s got a small camera on his head as well as a smartphone rigged in front of him.


At the end, a few buses carried runners who had to give up. The buses were quite empty though. The 36,000 runners had 7 hours to complete the marathon. Some 96% finished it.

Japan’s largest lake

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If you like lakes (especially very old ones), fish, plankton, endemic species, or fermented fish, this video is for you. It’s quite long at 1 hr. 6 min., but you can pause/resume at anytime. Or just watch the first 5 min. and then decide whether to watch it to till the end. Within 5 min., you’ll know if you want to continue watching it or not. It’s pretty educational.

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