Awa Odori 2019 schedule in Tokyo-Kanto

Compiled by Philbert Ono, Updated: July 1, 2019

This is the 2019 schedule of Awa Odori dance festivals to be held in the Tokyo/Kanto area (Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba Prefectures) from June to October 2019. 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 information (usually dates) to be announced. 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. 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, 2019.

東京・関東地方の阿波おどりの2019年の日程(英語)

–JUNE 2019 (6月)–

None that I know of.

–JULY 2019 (7月)–

Koiwa Awa Odori 小岩阿波おどり (Katsushika-ku, Tokyo)
・When: July 6, 2019, 6:15 pm–8:15 pm
・Where: Near JR Koiwa Station, North Exit (JR Sobu Line).
・About: New awa odori that started in 2014. 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 20, 2019, 2:00 pm–8:00 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 It has been replaced by this Oedo Niiza Festival in 2015.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–8:00 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 26–27, 2019, 7:00 pm–9:00 pm (Children’s dance on 26th from 6 pm to 7 pm)
・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: https://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=698
・Official website: http://www.kagurazaka.in/

Kasei Awa Odori かせい阿波おどり (Nakano-ku, Tokyo)
・When: July 27 (4:00 pm–6:00 pm) and 28 (5:00 pm–8:00 pm), 2019
・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 27, 2019, 6:00 pm
・Where: Near Tobu Nerima Station, South Exit (Tobu-Tojo Line).
・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: https://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, 2019, 6:00 pm–8:10 pm
・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 26–28, 2019. 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 27–28, 2019, 6:00 pm–9:00 pm
・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: https://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 27–28, 2019, 4:30 pm–8:30 pm
・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: https://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=335
・Official website: http://awaodori.cside6.com/

Hibiya Expo Oedo Matsuri 日比谷大江戸まつり (Tokyo)
・When: July 26–28, 2019, 10:00 am–8:00 pm (till 6:00 pm on 28th)
・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/2019/hibiyaoed-matsuri-2019/

–AUGUST 2019 (8月)–

Kojiya Awa Odori 糀谷阿波おどり (Ota-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. ??, 2019, 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. 3–4, 2019, 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. ??, 2019, 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. 3, 2019, 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. ??, 2019, 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. 17–18, 2019, 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: https://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. 17-18, 2019, 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. ??, 2019, 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/category/events

Koenji Awa Odori (Koenji, Suginami-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Aug. 24–25, 2019, 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: https://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. 24–25, 2019, 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: https://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. 24, 2019, 4:00 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: https://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=764
・Official website: http://ohtsuka-awaodori.com/

–SEPTEMBER 2019 (9月)–

Inagi Awa Odori 稲城阿波おどり大会 (Inagi, Tokyo)
・When: Sept. 7, 2019, 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: https://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. 7, 2019, 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: https://photoguide.jp/pix/thumbnails.php?album=767
・Official website: https://ja-jp.facebook.com/kitaurawaawaodori/

Nakamurabashi Awa Odori 中村橋阿波おどり (Nerima-ku, Tokyo)
・When: Sept. ??, 2019, 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: https://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 2019 (10月)–

Kawasaki Awa Odori かわさき阿波おどり (Kawasaki, Kanagawa)
・When: Oct. ??, 2019, 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. ??, 2019, 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:

–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.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine Wisteria

Kameido Tenjin Shrine (亀戸天神社) is one of Tokyo’s most beloved Shinto shrines. It has pretty flowers, it’s photogenic, it’s historical, and it retains a local ambience.

From late April to early May, the shrine grounds will be colored purple during its annual Wisteria Festival (Fuji Matsuri 藤まつり). The shrine is central Tokyo’s most famous spot for wisteria, and people crowd the 15 wisteria trellises accenting the pond and two vermillion arch bridges. The flowers are daintily fragrant, and the vines spiral upward in fantastic shapes. Azaleas also bloom at the same time, making it very colorful in a compact place.

If you don’t have time during the day, come in the evening to see the wisteria lit up from sunset to midnight. The purple flowers are beautiful against the twilight or night sky. The crowd is also smaller in the evenings.

Wisteria trellises and Tokyo Skytree in the evening.
Tokyo Skytree and Kameido Tenjin wisteria in the evening.
On the flat Hirabashi Bridge, people admire wisteria in the evening.

The shrine is in eastern Tokyo in a Koto Ward neighborhood called Kameido, not far from Akihabara (8 min. by train) and Tokyo Skytree. It has made Kameido synonymous with wisteria since the Edo Period (17th–19th centuries). Hiroshige’s 19th-century woodblock print of Kameido Tenjin’s wisteria made it especially famous. The wisteria and shrine buildings today date from after World War II since the shrine and much of Kameido were destroyed by firebombings in 1945.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine is one of the thousands of Tenmangu/Tenjin shrines in Japan that worship the famous Japanese scholar Sugawara Michizane (845–903) deified as Tenjin, the god of learning and scholarship. Many students pray here especially during January to February to pass school entrance exams or to do well in school.

Japan’s most venerated Tenmangu shrine is Dazaifu Tenmangu built in the 10th century over the spot where Michizane was buried in Fukuoka Prefecture in Kyushu. In the mid-17th century, Dazaifu Tenmangu’s priest (Michizane descendant) looked around eastern Japan to establish a branch shrine. He came upon Kameido village where there was a small Tenjin shrine. He decided to use it to worship a statue of Michizane carved from a sacred plum tree. Later, Shogun Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641–1680) donated the land for this shrine that became Kameido Tenjin Shrine.

Entrance to Kameido Tenjin Shrine during the Wisteria Festival.
The first arch bridge (Otoko-bashi) near the main torii.
Wisteria and azaleas on the way to the shrine’s Haiden main worship hall.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine’s Haiden main worship hall.

By 1662, the shrine’s basic layout and buildings took shape based on Dazaifu Tenmangu in Fukuoka. We can see a red torii gate, Shinji Pond, two taikobashi arch bridges, and a flat bridge. The first arch bridge (named “Otoko-bashi“) represents the past, the flat bridge (“Hirabashi“) is the present, and the second arch bridge (“Onna-bashi“) is the future. Cross all three bridges to purify your heart before praying at the Haiden main shrine hall. The shrine grounds also has many monuments, a few smaller shrines, and plum trees.

Kameido Tenjin Shrine was initially named Higashi Saifu Tenmangu or Kameido Saifu Tenmangu before it was finally renamed “Kameido Tenjinsha” (commonly called “Kameido Tenjin”) in 1936. It is the only Tenmangu shrine established as a direct branch of Dazaifu Tenmangu. The other Tenmangu/Tenjin shrines were established independently.

Red-ear slider turtles at Kameido Tenjin Shrine.

The Kameido (“Turtle Well”) district was so named because it used to be a turtle-shaped island (Kamejima) and there was a well in a popular plum garden. By coincidence or intention, Kameido Tenjin’s Shinji Pond teems with turtles. There is a modern-day custom for worshippers whose prayers at the shrine came true to release a turtle into the shrine’s pond as a gesture of appreciation. Most of them bring red-ear slider turtles which are small and cute as pets, but are invasive species. They grow to a large size and crowd out native turtles. The shrine does not condone this custom, so don’t bring a turtle to the shrine after passing your school exam.

Plum blossoms at Kameido Tenjin Shrine.
Kameido Tenjin Shrine worship hall flanked by plum blossoms.

Besides wisteria, Kameido Tenjin is noted for plum blossoms from early February to early March. Plum blossoms are associated with Sugawara Michizane because he once wrote a poem for his beloved plum blossoms that flew through the air to follow him when he was exiled to Dazaifu, Fukuoka. Kameido Tenjin’s crest is also the plum blossom.

On March 25, Kameido Tenjin Shrine holds its annual Taimatsu Torch Festival to mark the anniversary of Michizane’s death on March 25. People carry a lit torch around the shrine along with priets.

In late October to November, the shrine holds a chrysanthemum festival displaying exotic species and sculptures of chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemum festival at Kameido Tenjin Shrine.

The shrine grounds is open 24/7 and admission is free, but the main shrine hall is open only from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. With the pond, vermillion arch bridges, red torii, and Tokyo Skytree in the background, great flower pictures are waiting to be taken at Kameido Tenjin Shrine.

Kameido Tenjin is a 15-minute walk from JR Kameido Station‘s North Exit (JR Sobu Line or Tobu Kameido Line). Local shops and restaurants are along the way. Address: Kameido 3-6-1, Koto-ku, Tokyo

Via magazine cover photo by Philbert Ono (Spring 2019 issue).

More Kameido Tenjin Shrine wisteria photos here.

*This article is an expanded version of my article published in via magazine (Spring 2019 issue), the onboard magazine of the Airport Limousine bus in the Tokyo area and lobby magazine at all branches of Mizuho Bank in Japan.

Koganji Temple (Togenuki Jizo) in Sugamo

Koganji Temple Hondo main hall.

On the northern and less crowded part of the JR Yamanote Line in Tokyo is Sugamo Station. Sugamo is famous for the Jizo-Dori shopping street near the train station. Dubbed the “Grandma’s Harajuku,” Jizo-Dori is supposedly where the elderly do their fashion shopping. Although shops do cater to the older generation, it is also lined with about 200 restaurants, confection shops, and other businesses for local residents. It still feels more like a local neighborhood than a touristy one.

Entrance to Sugamo Jizo-Dori shopping street.
Jizo statue at Shinshoji Temple, a Shingon Buzan School Buddhist temple.

About 800 meters long, Sugamo Jizo-Dori street (巣鴨地蔵通) was named after the large Jizo bodhisattva statue at Shinshoji Temple (眞性寺) at Jizo-Dori’s entrance. Cast in 1714, this Jizo was one of the “Six Jizo of Edo” placed on the main gateway roads from Edo (Tokyo) during the 18th century as a protector of travelers against illness. Sugamo was along the old Nakasendo Road to Kyoto. In 1891, another Jizo was added to Jizo-Dori when the famous Koganji Temple moved here.

Jizo statues at Koganji.

Jizo is popularly known as the protector of children (especially deceased children who died before their parents), travelers, and firefighters. He is also the saviour of souls suffering in the underworld or hell. Commonly found in Japan on roadsides and graves, Jizo statues are usually depicted as a small Buddhist monk with a shaved head, halo, and staff. There are actually many kinds of Jizo with different powers, and a unique one is at Koganji Temple, nicknamed “Togenuki Jizo.”

Koganji’s Sanmon front gate built in Sept. 1980.

Koganji Temple (高岩寺) is a short walk from the entrance of Jizo-Dori street and Sugamo’s main attraction. Although it’s not a huge nor architecturally significant Buddhist temple, it’s very popular and famous as a healing temple backed by intriguing Jizo stories of health miracles.

Koganji is a Soto Zen Buddhist temple with its own congregation, but most worshippers are outsiders. Jizo-Dori and Koganji see 8 million visitors annually. Over 100,000 come on the temple’s Ennichi festival days (縁日) held monthly on the 4th, 14th, and 24th when they have food and souvenir stalls along Jizo-Dori street. The Ennichi festival aims to have people attain a closer connection with Jizo. It originated when the temple decided to allow souvenir stalls along the path to the temple to attract visitors since Sugamo was still a backwater when Koganji moved here in 1891. These souvenir stalls morphed into the many shops and eateries now on Jizo-dori street.

The temple has nine priests including the head/resident priest and four live-in college trainees who are studying to take over their own temples back home. The main temple hall (Hondo) is open from 6:00 am to 5:00 pm (or until 8:00 pm on festival days).

Jizo-Dori shopping street crowded on one of the Ennichi festival days.
Souvenir stalls in front of Koganji on an Ennichi festival day.

One thing you need to know is that the temple is strictly non-smoking. In fact, the entire Jizo-Dori street prohibits smoking, thanks to the tireless efforts of Koganji’s head and resident priest, Rev. Akinori Kuruma. When I first requested an interview, the first thing he told me before anything else was, “Smoking is not allowed at Koganji. Are you okay with that?” I don’t smoke so it wasn’t a problem. More about him later.

Koganji’s nice public square with benches and “No smoking” symbols.
People can take a break and relax at Koganji.

Koganji Temple is most interesting for its legends, stories, and beliefs about promoting good health and prolonging human life. It’s what everyone wants, so no wonder it’s such a popular temple. Originally established in Kanda in 1596 as a Soto Zen Buddhist temple, Koganji was consumed by the Great Meireki Fire in 1657 and moved to present-day Ueno where it started to worship Jizo. Due to urban redevelopment, it was later forced to relocate to its present location in Sugamo in 1891. The temple was destroyed during the war in 1945 and the current Hondo main hall was rebuilt in 1958.

Koganji Temple’s principal object of worship is Togenuki Jizo. “Togenuki” literally means “thorn extraction,” an attention-grabbing name for a one-of-a-kind Jizo. Surprisingly, Koganji’s Togenuki Jizo is not a statue. And it’s not the stone statue you see people washing right outside the temple hall.

Koganji’s thorn-extraction Jizo legend (or truth) starts in May 1713 in Koishikawa, Edo (Tokyo) with the Jizo believer wife of a samurai named Tatsuki (or Tatsuke) Matashiro (田付又四郎). After giving birth to a boy, she fell ill and was near death. Doctors couldn’t do anything. On her deathbed, she confessed that a vengeful spirit had cursed her family so the women in her family would not live beyond age 25. Even her older sister had died at 25.

Husband Matashiro kept praying for her until one night a black-robed monk appeared in his dream. The monk told him to imprint a Jizo image on 10,000 small pieces of paper to be floated on the river. When he awoke from the dream, he found a small wooden stamp at his pillow which he used to imprint the Jizo image on the paper. This paper talisman was called “omikage” (御影). While praying, he floated the 10,000 imprinted pieces of paper from Ryogoku Bridge over Sumida River.

Next morning, his wife told him that she saw the God of Death being booted out by a black-robed monk with his staff. The wife gradually got better and recovered completely by November the same year. She never got sick again. It was essential to sincerely believe in the healing powers of Jizo, otherwise there would be no miracles. Both the wife and husband were devout Jizo believers.

Later, Matashiro talked about his wife’s miraculous recovery at an acquaintance’s house where a Buddhist priest named Saijun (西順) was there. Saijun asked for a Jizo-imprinted omikage paper talisman, and Matashiro gave him two. This priest happened to be a regular visitor to the Edo residence of the famous Mori samurai clan from Choshu (Yamaguchi Prefecture).

One day in 1715, a housemaid working at the Mori clan’s Edo residence accidentally swallowed a broken needle she had put in her mouth while sewing. The needle caused her much pain in her throat and stomach. The doctor could do nothing. Priest Saijun then came and told her to swallow the small, Jizo-imprinted paper talisman with a cup of water. The housemaid did so and soon threw up and out came the little paper talisman with the needle stuck in it. This where the name “Togenuki” comes from since it literally means, “thorn extraction.” This story was actually written by Matashiro himself in 1728 and the temple has a written record of it. So it could well be a true story. This Jizo is also called the “Life-Prolonging Jizo.”

The temple soon started offering these tiny omikage paper talismans imprinted with a Jizo image. Koganji’s miracle stories spread throughout Japan, and small woodblocks were made to imprint the Jizo image on small paper pieces. The ritual of floating 10,000 Jizo paper talismans on waterways spread.

Koganji Togenuki Jizo altar area inside the main worship hall. On the left, the small, top chamber keeps the Togenuki Jizo behind closed doors.
Small envelope containing the omikage Jizo paper talismans.

And so Koganji Temple’s main object of worship is just a tiny imprint of Togenuki Jizo’s likeness on a piece of paper smaller than a postage stamp. It is housed in a small chamber at the top of the temple’s main altar. A “hidden Buddha” not shown to the public. The good news is that the temple offers Jizo paper talismans imprinted with the same Togenuki Jizo image. Inside the main worship hall, ask for “omikage.” Open the small envelope and find five Jizo paper talismans. (Not to be shown online or publicly.) You can stick it on your body where you have pain or even swallow it. Remember, you need to believe in Jizo for it to work…

Arai Kannon at Koganji.

Koganji’s more visible object of worship is the Arai Kannon (Washable Kannon 洗い観音) standing outside on left side of the Hondo worship hall. People might mistake this as the Togenuki Jizo since it is usually crowded with people and it is an outdoor stone statue like a Jizo. But if you look carefully at the head, it is not shaven. It is a female-like (unisex actually) Kannon statue. You may see a line of people waiting to wash and wipe the Arai Kannon with water and a towel. They are washing the part of the Kannon’s body where they want to heal their own bodies.

This popular Arai Kannon originated in 1657 when Koganji Temple member Yaneya Kiheiji (屋根屋喜平次) donated the statue to the temple in memory of his wife who died in the Great Meireki Fire that year. Worshippers eventually started to believe that the part of the statue they washed would heal that part on their own body. They used a hand brush and water to wash the Kannon statue. Over the centuries, the statue became worn and it was finally replaced with a new Kannon statue donated in November 1992 by the late temple patron and Buddhist merchandise seller Nakahori Yoshie (中堀義江) and sculpted by Yatsuyanagi Naoki (八柳尚樹). To reduce wear, worshippers now use a towel (sold for ¥100 on site) instead of a brush to wash the Arai Kannon statue. The original Arai Kannon statue is kept in a small chamber right behind the current statue. The face is totally worn out.

Rev. Akinori Kuruma, Koganji’s head priest holding an AED.

The next health story is more modern and recent, centering on Rev. Akinori Kuruma (来馬 明規), Koganji’s 29th-generation head and resident priest. A licensed medical doctor specializing in cardiology, Rev. Kuruma graduated from the renown Nippon Medical School in Tokyo and once did research at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, so his English is quite good. He originally had no intention to take over the temple from his priest father, but as fate had it, he left the medical profession and became a Buddhist priest in 2005 after his father died.

“I wanted to somehow incorporate my medical background in my new occupation,” he says. He promptly started a no-smoking movement and pushed for the installation of AEDs (automated external defibrillator) along Jizo-Dori street. Smoking was banned at Koganji, but it took a while to convince the merchants of Jizo-Dori to ban smoking.

The restaurants feared that they would see fewer customers if they went smoke-free. However, as Jizo-Dori slowly went smoke-free, they noticed that more mothers with young children started visiting. That convinced shop owners to go smoke-free and even the tobacco shop was shuttered and cigarette vending machines removed. Rev. Kuruma has done such an admirable job.

Koganji’s anti-smoking uchiwa fan. It basically says, “Extract the tobacco thorn to prolong your life and be happy.” (Including vaping.)

But outside Jizo-Dori, it’s still an uphill battle against smoking. Rev. Kuruma openly protested against Toshima Ward (where Koganji is located) having an ineffective outdoor smoking area on the east side of Ikebukuro Station in June 2013 even though Toshima Ward had been designated as a World Health Organization-certified Safe Community in Nov. 2012. Also, many priests in his own sect and other Buddhist sects in Japan and around the world smoke as well, much to his disdain. Rev. Kuruma continues to be an anti-smoking activist and lectures all over Japan as a medical doctor and priest about the dangers of smoking and secondhand smoke.

AED at Koganji Temple.

Rev. Kuruma was also an early adopter of AEDs in 2005 when they were still rare and not many people knew about it. It was in 2005 when Japan allowed non-medical personnel to also use AEDs. That’s when it started to spread and AEDs were soon installed at Koganji and Jizo-Dori. Jizo-Dori became an AED model case for other shopping neighborhoods that followed suit.

In 2007, Koganji started AED/CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) classes at its social hall. Rev. Kuruma is a certified AED/CPR instructor and hundreds of local merchants and residents have taken Konganji’s AED/CPR classes. Word has spread and he also conducts AED/CPR classes for other organizations including Buddhist temples. The temple’s AED has even once saved a life or two on Jizo-Dori street.

Since 1959, the temple also has a free counseling center manned by lawyers, social workers, priests, psychologists, and other professional counselors to help with people’s problems. Many people find a solution just by talking to someone about their problems. Rev. Kuruma believes that Buddhist temples must integrate with the local community and help people while they are still alive. (Buddhist temples are typically viewed as a place for the deceased only.)

By religiously and medically advocating good health and prolonged life, Rev. Kuruma has really taken Koganji’s mission up to a new level. The temple has become a bastion for good health and longer life. A rare Buddhist temple indeed.

Koganji Temple’s Major Events

  • Ennichi Festival Days: On the 4th, 14th, and 24th of every month. (Major festivals [Taisai] on Jan. 24, May 24, and Sept. 24.)
  • Early Morning Prayers every morning at 6:30 a.m.–6:45 a.m. in the temple.
  • New Year’s services (30-min.) on Jan. 1st (6:00 a.m.) and 2nd–3rd (6:30 a.m.).
  • Setsubun Bean-Throwing Festival on Feb. 3rd at 4:00 p.m.

*Special thanks to Rev. Akinori Kuruma for his kind cooperation for this article.

Website: https://www.sugamo.or.jp/prayer_detail01.html

*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)

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