Yoyogi Hachiman Autumn Festival

I missed 99.99% of the festivals this past summer because of the brutal heat. Feeling the festival season slipping away, I hopped over to Yoyogi Park and Yoyogi Hachiman Shrine, where they were having their (rather early, ’cause it was still damn hot) autumn festival.

It was a little underwhelming as festivals go, but it was good to get out, I got to eat some beloved oyaki, and I got to see the phenomenon that is Waffle on a Stick.

Yasukuni Summer Lantern Festival

I hit this festival last year as well, but made the grave mistake of coming during the daytime. What was I thinking? As these photos demonstrate, the whole point is definitely to visit at night.

The heat was deadly this summer, and my dad, his girlfriend and I practically swam through the humidity while walking up and down the long road up to Yasukuni. Regardless, people came out in droves, and the crowds were packed so thick around performances that we only heard rather than saw the taiko drummers and flute players.

Still, since everyone agreed one quick turn around the grounds was enough, it was an evening well spent.

Kanda Matsuri

Hop in a time machine with me, friends, to way back in May, when going outdoors didn’t feel like putting one foot in the grave. When there were matsuri aplenty, and it was nice enough out that we actually were inclined to go to them. Yes, way back in that unimaginable time, I did leave my house and my precious AC, and I attended the Kanda Matsuri.

Kanda Matsuri is one of Tokyo’s three huge annual festivals, though the full blown big ‘un only happens in odd-numbered years. There’ll be one in 2014, but it won’t be on quite as grand a scale as it was in 2013.

I’m not quite sure how grand the Kanda Matsuri was myself, because by the time I got there around noon, the crowd of people was so thick I couldn’t get anywhere near the actual temple. Well, I could, but that would require being swallowed by the mob, and going where ever the current decided to take me. I’m a bit crowd-phobic (wrong city to be living in, I know) so I did not muster the will to dive in. Instead, I stood further down the parade route where personal space was at less of a premium, and watched the steady parade of mikoshi (portable shrines) go by.

As you can see from the last row or two, I got pretty obsessed with getting a nice shot of the women in the beautiful orange, black and white outfits. Per usual for me, I couldn’t really tell who each group hauling the mikoshi or walking in the procession was, so if you have any information on this particular lantern- and staff-carrying group and their significance I’d appreciate it!

Summer festival season is winding down and fall festival season is gearing up, so if you, like me, have taken a bit of a break from the outdoor festivities so as to not melt, now’s the time to get outdoors again and catch these kinds of matsuri and other cultural performances.

Do you have a favorite spring, summer, or fall festival? Drop your recommendations in the comments!

Indonesian Festival in Roppongi

The Indonesian Festival took place the same weekend as the Sri Lankan festival. Like its sister embassy, the Indonesian Embassy threw a fairly small shindig, with about four or five food stalls, some Indonesian businesses (paper- and travel-related) offering brochures, and some performances on stage. My friend Reema and I got some mango juice and watched some Indonesian rap from the sparse shade, then did one last spin around the grounds before we popped back into the Roppongi Midtown complex and found ourselves some food. I would’ve loved to try some Indonesian eats, but nothing non-meaty (other than the mango juice) was available.

About as fascinating as the Indonesian rap was a woman doing some kind of intricate cloth decoration, which you can see in the last row of photos. It involved dabbing some kind of melted wax/ink stuff with a very fine tipped instrument. As you can see by the size of the clothes and the detail, these things must take ages. I passed on buying one, but I did enter a raffle to win two free tickets to Indonesia. Reema’s brother had been, and needless to say a vacay in a developing country won’t net nearly as much as daily life in Tokyo does. I’ll keep you in mind, Indonesia!

Sri Lankan Festival in Yoyogi Park

Two weekends in September were apparently the weekends for non-Japanese summer festivals. Much like the “open embassies” weekends in DC, a few embassies around Tokyo threw their own country-specific shindigs. On Saturday I went to the Sri Lankan festival in Yoyogi Park, right by the famous fashion districts Harajuku and Omotesando.

To be honest, it was quite small. I did a full circle in about half an hour, then used the rest of the hour doing one more round and snapping photos. Sri Lankan businesses had stalls up, and some Sri Lankan restaurants were selling food. Performances were taking place throughout the day, but I didn’t look at the program so if I missed anyone good I’m none the wiser.

It was interesting to see what I assume was Tokyo’s entire Sri Lankan population come out of the woodwork. I’m not in an area where I see a lot of foreigners, and when I do they’re Middle Eastern or once in a blue moon white. Tokyo’s really a very diverse city, the diversity just exists in pockets so I don’t always notice it.

And finally, this gentleman was there with his dog. Cue the theme to Easy Rider.

Otsuka Summer Festival

September 1st, my neighborhood had its own summer festival to bid farewell to the hot, sweltering awfulness. Or at least that’s my guess. A procession started up the street, about a mile from my house, and proceeded down toward my main station. Though the heat kept me a way from all but the really major, “I need to see this because I might not be in Japan this time next year” festivals, this one was five minutes away so I didn’t have much of an excuse.

So, after a five minute walk from my front door, through the unusual crowd at my sleepy train station, I hit the festival route. There were the standard vendors lined up and down the street, and restaurants with their doors open and little tables outside selling beer and bento take-out boxes while trying to entice people in. The edge of the street had also been cordoned off for picnickers, who’d laid out tarps and picnic dinners on the asphalt.

The festivities, which involved different troupes of performers marching down the festival route, began at five, but I didn’t go out until after the sun had set past six. It was still hot, and I was immediately sweating. I escaped the slow-moving throng on the sidewalk and hopped up on a little brick wall around a landscaped part of the sidewalk, and took pictures from there as the performers went by. This was an exercise in “how to take crappy night photos”: a streetlight was across from me, resulting in copious lensflare; it was dark and my camera is five years old; and people were moving and blurring. Still, I managed a few shots of the costumes and dances, and if nothing else I think you can appreciate the summer festival atmosphere.

I watched for about an hour, then made my way back home, to, yes, the sweet sanctuary of air conditioning. I’m a southwestern girl, I’m just not cut out for this wet heat.

Yosakoi! Yosakoi!

Akiko, her husband Makoto and I walked the arduous five minutes to Otsuka Station to see the Yosakoi Festival today. Akiko told me ‘Yosakoi’ is from an old dialect and pretty much means ‘come out tonight!’ (yosa = yoru = night, koi = kuru = come). Yosakoi is a kind of dance, though based on the performances there’s plenty of variation in the steps and the accompanying costumes. There were a bazillion (and by a bazillion I mean maybe ten or fifteen) yosakoi dance troupes that came out to perform, and we stayed for about five. Waseda University had at least two, though the second Waseda group, in the green with the kitsune masks, had crazy energy and was definitely the most fun to watch.

I was standing next to an old woman (henceforth “obaachan,” aka “grandma”) who started chatting to no one in particular. She commented on how energetic the performers were, and I agreed, and, I suspect without looking at me, she replied back, and by the time she glanced over and realized I was white it was either not a problem re: her chitchatting in the first place or it was too late to politely ignore me. She was adorable though, and seemed to enjoy talking to me anyway, so I’ll go with ‘wasn’t a problem.’ It was loud and I could only hear/understand about half of what she was saying, and later when Akiko asked me what we’d been talking about I told her this.

“So what’d you say?” Akiko asked.

“I mostly kept saying ‘Is that so?’ and ‘That’s right.'” (そうですか?そうですね。)

“Oo, you’re good.”

“Small talk is universal.”

Around lunchtime we hopped on the Arakawa-sen (Arakawa Line), a rare street car line in the middle of Tokyo, and took it down to Waseda. There Akiko had found a restaurant called ‘Okinawashokudo’ (Okinawa Restaurant, essentially) that served vegan-friendly Okinawa-inspired food. Last time I went out with Akiko and Makoto (right after they’d met, and they were ten kinds of adorable then, too) they shared with me their strategy of ordering a bunch of stuff, sharing it, and ending up super full. I approve and was more than willing to participate.

While riding back Akiko pointed out a pun on an ad for gravestones:

It’s hard to read (but you can’t read Japanese anyway, right?) but it says: 墓地墓地(ぼちぼち/bochibochi)考えてみませんか?”Bochibochi” means “soon/in a little while.” “Bochi” means “grave.”

So the sign says something like, “Why don’t you think about (it) soon?”