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.

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.

Fukagawa Festival at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine

Mid-August I went to the Fukagawa Festival, which this year was held at the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in Monzennakacho. (There are apparently three Hachiman Shrines, and the Fukagawa Festival rotates between them.) The Fukagawa Festival involves teams upon teams of people carrying mikoshi (shoulder-born shrines) from the shrine, around the Imperial Palace, and back again. It’s an insanely long route, especially carrying a shrine in the heat of August. So as an added perk: the shrine-bearers get water thrown on them all along the festival route.

So too, apparently, does the audience. I was standing on the sidelines near the shrine, watching the mikoshi come back from their long walk, and someone with a bucket of water aiming at the shrine bearers suddenly whirled around and doused me and the two old ladies next to me. One of the ladies was nice enough to offer me a hand towel, and I dabbed off, confirmed my camera was fine and dandy, and realized – oh hey evaporative coolers feel nice.

I dried off pretty fast in the hot hot sun. And sort of wished I could get splashed again.

After I watched a few dozen shrines float by, I went to the Tomioka Hachiman Shrine. It was more crowded than I saw it on New Year’s.

Off the temple were a few crowded streets of the usual Japanese festival stuff: meat on a stick, baked potatoes, castella and other sweets, and games. The heat was killing me, and with no one to dump a bucket of water on my head in sight, I headed home to bask in the AC instead.

Lantern Festival at Yasukuni Shrine

Last month, the controversial Yasukuni Shrine held a summer festival showcasing hand painted lanterns alongside the usual people-wearing-yukata, meat-on-a-stick festivities. I went with some of my classmates in the bright, bright final hours of sunlight. In retrospect that was half mistake – lanterns are made to be lit up, after all – and half accidental genius, as the crowd seemed to triple just as we were leaving.

First, the long road leading up to Yasukuni Shrine, lined with normal lanterns with the names of sponsors written on them.

Here are some of the hand painted lanterns.

You can also view the full album, in all its lens flare glory.

2012-07-16, Monday: Lantern Summer Festival at Yasukuni Shrine