Category Archives: Festivals

Takaosan Fire-Walking Festival

Takaosan or Mount Takao is a mountain located in western Tokyo and only about 50 minutes away from Shinjuku by train, making it a popular hiking spot and a pleasant day trip to a natural environment close to central Tokyo.

It has been regarded as a sacred mountain for a long time and every year on a second Sunday of March, the fire-walking festival or Hiwatari-matsuri is held. There is a traditional belief in Shingon Buddhism that fire has the power to cleanse. The annual festival consists of the ceremonious lighting of the pyre and participants walking across burning coals in order to purify body and soul. We were so curious when we heard about it and couldn’t resist the urge to witness this rare festival!

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Since the festival was in the afternoon, we took the opportunity to explore Takaosan and spent our morning getting to the summit. We decided to take the cable car halfway up the mountain and hike from there which took us about 50 minutes. It was a cold and rainy day but we finally made our way to the top with one stopping at Yakuoin temple to make a prayer for better weather for the rest of the day.

After an enjoyable lunch, we walked back to the station, took the cable car back down and excitedly went straight to the festival’s venue. Luckily, the rain had stopped by the time we got there and we managed to secure a good watching spot on a small hill next to the main stage!

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The grand Yakuoin temple located along the hiking trail
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On the top of Takaosan
 Before the festival started
Before the festival started
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja

After a long chanting and some ritual processes, the pyre was lit and it was an exciting sight to see. We could feel the fire’s warmth even though we stood further away from the center. The walk began from the monks when the fire had reduced itself to smoking ashes. After the monks have crossed, the path was opened to the audiences who wish to try fire-walking. The line was incredibly long and we waited for nearly half an hour until it was our turn. Whether you are a Buddhist or not, or whether you just watch or walk the fire yourself, the ceremony can be enjoyed equally so make sure to give it a try next year!

The lighting bonfire
The lighting bonfire

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The monks (top) and participants (bottom) walking through the path of embers

by Kate P.

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The biggest winter illumination in Kanto: Sagamiko Illumination

Japan is a country that seems to love illuminations. Especially in winter, many large-scale illuminations can be seen at various locations across the country. Among the most famous illumination events in Kanto area, the Sagamiko Illumination is widely known as the largest and the longest running one!

This year, it incorporates over 5 million LED lights in a wide range of colors and utilizes new production of music and light constructions to create a magical world. We went to enjoy this spectacular illumination on the last day of February and here are some photos from our trip.

1A Christmas tree at the entrance with giant Ferris wheel in the background.

2Entering the venue, we were greeted with a sight of purple and pink carpets covering the hillsides.

3One of the slopes was blanketed with colorful flowers. 

4A long tunnel decorated with blinking rainbow lights.

5The ocean of blue lights with sea creatures (Can you spot a whale in this photo?)

6The chairlift took us to the mountain top where we could enjoy the scenery from a different viewpoint.

7There was also a giant swing ride for the adventure-seeker.

 

8The not-to-be-missed Palace of Light exhibition, an animated light show accompanied by music and dancing water fountain.

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For anyone who wants to catch this last bit of winter illumination, it is held on weekends and holidays from 6PM until April 12th. Entrance ticket costs 600 yen and round-trip ticket for chairlift costs 400 yen. The journey takes about 1-2 hours from central Tokyo. The nearest train station is Sagamiko station from where you can take bus no.21 to the park. There is also direct bus which departs from Shinjuku but advanced reservation is required via telephone or internet.

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by Kate P.

 

Kamakura – “Small Kyoto” near from Tokyo

On 11 Feb, the day of Japan’s Country Foundation Day, we went to Kamakura to walk around, and more importantly, to witness a strange religion ceremony. This ceremony is a disciplinary ceremony / training for monks in training.

As some of you may know, there are many shrines and temples in Kamakura, so, it is sometimes called “Small Kyoto”. The town is a famous and popular sightseeing spot among Japanese as well.

From Shinagawa to Kamakura, it takes around 1 hour by local train.

At first, we visited Chosho-ji (長勝寺) to watch the religious ceremony.

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Monks in training came….

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Cold water was poured over their heads with chanting reading sutras!!! Note, this is February, deep in winter!

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IT LOOKS SOOOOO COLD! o(>_<)o

To warm ourselves out from that “cold” experience, we went for lunch near Kamakura Station and walked around the area..

Komachi Street, there are many souvenir shops and food stands belong there.
Komachi Street, where there are many souvenir shops and food stands.

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Lunch at one of the restaurants at Komachi Street
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Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, within 10 mins’ walk from Kamakura Station. You can read more at  here.

After walking around Kamakura and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, we took tram and visited this famous site.

Koutokuin, to visit the Big Buddha! Nearest Station is Hase Station, Enoden Line.
Koutokuin, to visit the Big Buddha! Nearest Station is Hase Station, Enoden Line.
View of the ocean from Hasedera temple, near Hase Station, Enoden Line.
View of the ocean from Hasedera temple, near Hase Station, Enoden Line.

At last we visited the beach and said “See you again!”

Yuigahama Beach
Yuigahama Beach

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Of course winter is off season, so it was really quiet and tranquil…

After all Kamakura is good place to visit any number of times!!!


by Tammy Fukaya

Sagicho Festival at Oiso, Kanagawa

We were going to Oiso on January 11th 2015 to see a Sagicho Festival 左義長 or Dondo Yaki どんど焼き  (a kind of bonfire festival) that was held on Oiso Beach in Kanagawa. We met at Shinagawa station and went by the 3pm train to Oiso Station. The beach weren’t so far from the station (about 15 minutes walk) and nearby the beach entrance, we were greeted by locals with some soup and snacks to warm up our bodies. As it was near the beach, it was really windy and cold for most of us! According to the locals, this is the first time they have seen foreigners at this event! They were just as surprised to see us, as we were to visit this secret festival! We felt really honoured to be there!

At 6pm, we started to heard to the beach. There were many pyramid-like structures made from grass and decorated with lucky charms from the past year. The locals will bring their old charms from the previous year and decorate it here over the new year. We waited there until they lit the fire to the structures. We were given mochi (rice cakes) to on long bamboo sticks which we can use to BBQ the mochi around the fire. Just imagine, instead of marshmallows, we were BBQ-ing mochi. It was the first time for most of us and it was fun!  It seemed like a pretty small-scale festival, and there were not many food stalls unlike the other big festivals. There were only 3 yatai (food stalls) but it was the locals’ hospitality and warmth that completed the festive mood!

The real fun began when the festival started. With the fire, it became pretty warm (of course) and there were so many people gathering around to pray and to join in the festival. After the fire was kindled, some men wearing only the traditional loin cloth went into the water to do pull some kind of rope, which I think was attached to the mikoshi (portable shrines that are common in traditional religious festival). When they are done, they head back to the shore, singing and drinking sake. It was a pretty interesting sight to behold! I cannot imagine how they actually withstand the cold weather and water!

That’s pretty much what happened in the festival. It was hard for us to really understand the background and history since all the information are only in Japanese and the locals couldn’t speak English. Nevertheless, it was one of those times when experience transcends the language barrier. Just being there, experiencing the festival, interacting with the locals and taking it all in was really fun!
Here are some photos of our journey ☺

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By Marco TJ.

From Carps to Dragons

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Have you ever seen these carp streamers in Japanese TV or animation and wonder what it is about?

These carp streamers are a symbol of Children’s Day in Japan, a day to celebrate the health and happiness of children. This special occasion falls on 5 May every year, and during this time, families with boys (yes, boys – there is a special occasion for girls on 3 March) will fly these carp streamers (koi nobori 鯉のぼり) from their houses. Carp is a symbol of strength and according to Chinese legend, the carps swim upstream, becoming dragons. Similarly, Japanese parents fly the carp streamers in hope that their children will have a bright future, like dragons.

We had the opportunity to visit Sagamigawa River in Kanagawa prefecture, which is famous for its annual Koi Nobori Festival (Carp Streamers Festival). About 1,200 giant carp streamers are flown over this river, dancing beautifully in the blue skies. They are so huge that you can see them from miles away while walking towards the river! As with all other festivals, there were many stalls selling an array of festival staples – fried chicken kara-age, Japanese “pizza” Okonomiyaki, chilled cucumber, fried noodles yaki-soba, chocolate-coated bananas, shaved ice with syrup, sweet potato sticks… It was a great outing to go with your family or friends, just sitting by the river, eating some festival munchies and enjoying the spring weather.

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You can see the carps flying from miles away!
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Up close, they are even more magnificent!
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With the strong wind along the river, these carps are flying freely in the sky!
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Spoilt for choice at the festival!
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Fancy catching a goldfish with a paper scoop? This one takes some skills!
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Enjoy a make-shift picnic along the river with the food bought at the stalls!

Another tradition on this day is to display warrior dolls (gogatsu ningyou 五月人形) or the traditional military helmet (kabuto 兜) in the houses. Both are symbols of strength and health for the growing boys. We didn’t have the chance to visit any houses with these on display, but we did come across an old boy with a kabuto.

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One of the traditional food eaten on this day is the Kashiwa-mochi. This special rice cake with red-bean paste is wrapped inside an oak leaf, and is readily available at departmental shops on this special day.

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Even though Children’s Day is over, here’s a belated greeting from all of us at trippiece! May you stay young at heart!

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Perhaps one day, we are gonna fly away like these carps, turning into dragons…

—Festival Info—

Name:  Sagamigawa Oyoge Koi Nobori (泳げ鯉のぼり)
Dates: 29 Apr – 5 May
Location: Sagamigawa River, near Takada Bridge
Entrance fee: FOC
Getting there: From Hashimoto Stn (JR Yokohama Line), take bus 57 or 59 to Tana Bus Terminal. From there, it’s a 15 mins walk to the riverside.
Website (Japanese only): http://www.oyoge-koinobori.com/index.html

Feel the heartbeat of Hida Furukawa

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Most of us know of Hida Takayama as the one of the tranquil and beautiful historic towns in rural Japan. In comparison, its neighbour, Hida Furukawa, is often overlooked and forgotten on the tourist map. Both are historic towns boasting of preserved old streets and buildings, as well as fine craftmenship of the local carpenters. However, Furukawa has something else – Furukawa Festival, an age-old festival dating back to the 17th century, also branded as one of Japan’s Three Great “Naked Festivals”.

Held every year on 19th and 20th April, it is a huge rousing night festival as the Okoshi Daiko, the “rousing drum” is paraded through town by hundreds of half-clad men from the town. This main drum is followed closely by 12 groups of men from different parts of the town, each group fighting to get the most prestigious position, which is closest to the Okoshi Daiko. Throughout the night, the steady pounding of the drum resonates throughout this historic town and spectators get engulfed in the infectious energy, emotions and drumbeat of this traditional festival.

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Due to the rural location of Furukawa, this amazing traditional festival is still relatively unheard of. However, a trippiece user proposed this trip on our trippiece.com. With that, we had a group of 20 curious travellers making the journey to Furukawa to witness and feel the spirit of the Furukawa Festival. Enough said, let the pictures do the talking.

Participants arrived from all over Japan, and gathered at one of the local Minka (a countryside folk house) we rented, complete with tatami rooms and kotatsu table!

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We kicked off the event with a huge lunch party to break the ice. Everyone was resting, eating and meeting new people after a long journey to Furukawa. We even had the privilege to speak with some of the locals who will be participating in the night parade!

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Well-rested and well-fed, we took a walk around town to enjoy the historical ambience of this hidden town.

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Along the way, we also managed to catch the day parades of the festival! Similar to other Japanese festivals, there was a “mikoshi” procession, a parade of the portable shrine around town.

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There were also dancers and performers. Seems like the entire town, from children to the seniors were involved in this spectacular festival!

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As night falls, the highlight of the festival drew nearer and we began to see groups of men getting ready for the big event! We were very lucky as two of our participants were invited to join in the parade! Now, a little sake to warm up the naked bodies in the cold and they were good to go!

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We sat on the balcony of our Minka to witness this spectacular festival. The quiet little town was charged with energy and emotions  as the men moved to the beat of the drums, jostled against each other, and fought to be nearest to the Okoshi Daiko.

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The parade ended on a high note in the open space in town. It was hard to believe how this quiet little town had transformed within the span of a few hours. It was one of those moments where you felt like you were transported back in time and all of a sudden you feel emotional and your hair are standing on ends without really knowing why.

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The night ended in a great dinner and celebration. We were all thankful to be able to witness and take part in such a grand and spectacular festival. It is indeed a secret of rural Japan, one of those things where you are not too sure if it’s good to tell too many people about. For now, we’re just happy to share our experience at this emotionally-charged night festival. We hope this glorious age-old tradition will be preserved for many years to come. And perhaps we’ll be back again next year..

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(Pictures courtesy of Yoshida Yusuke and Mayumi Takemura.)

The Most Bizarre Festival Ever

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Oh yes, it’s spring time. Blue skies, sakura blooming, an old Japanese shrine.. Wait a second, is that what I’m seeing? A statue of a bright pink penis in the shrine grounds?!?

Yes, it is. Welcome to Japan, and to the Kanamara Festival, also known as the Festival of the Steel Phallus. The festival is held in Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, an area near Tokyo and Yokohama, on every first Sunday in April.

According to WikiFestivals, the festival has its roots way back in 1600s, where prostitutes would pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Today, it is more of an tourist attraction and the money raised at the festival goes to funding for HIV awareness and research.

After I heard about this festival, I simply HAD TO go experience it for myself. Upon arriving at the shrine, we were greeted by beautiful sakura, lots of foreigners and banners with pictures of the penis.

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The first thing we came across was some ceremony for praying to the mikoshi (portable shrines). I didn’t really know what was going on, but we were told that the huge pink penis is called the Elizabeth Mikoshi. Apparently it was initially used in Akihabara, an area renowned for Japanese pop culture – anime, manga and video games.

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After the morning ceremony, it was announced that there will be a radish carving competition! Seems like anyone up for it can go carve one of the radishes. Of course, it has to be in the shape of a penis. Looks like the candidates were all pretty skilled in this aspect!

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The mikoshi parade (a parade in which the portable shrines are carried and paraded around town as a sign of transporting the deity in the shrine) started at around noon time. The procession was kicked off by some of the shrine members parading before the mikoshi. I’m not really sure of the significance of their costumes.

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As with all mikoshi processions, strong men are needed to carry the heavy mikoshi. Upon heaving it onto their shoulders in one go, they move the mikoshi up and down rhythmically. The crowd went wild and everyone cheered for them.

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The first and heaviest mikoshi making its way out of the main shrine.

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The second mikoshi, Elizabeth Mikoshi, was carried by a group of transvestite. Don’t belittle them, they’re all pretty strong!

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And the last mikoshi…

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Apart from the ceremony, there were also plenty to do and see in the shrine. You could take pictures with the wooden penis statues, or buy a penis omamori (good luck charm) from the shrine, eat a penis lollipop, or amuse yourself with the outrageous souvenirs that are on sale in the stalls.

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There were some strange things on sale. It makes me wonder if I’d ever have another chance to use them without inviting weird looks from other people.

1) Handkerchiefs with penis and vagina prints

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2) Penis and boobs masks, as nicely dorn by the male models.

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3) Penis lollipops

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4) All other random things related to the penis

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Although the theme of the Kanamara Festival seems like such a taboo topic, the festival was actually a very light-hearted affair compared to other religious festivals. It seems more like a carnival than a religious celebration. About half the crowd was foreigners. I guess, like me, they were all curious about this Japan-only festival.

And as always, Japan never fails to amaze me.

Kanamara Matsuri, checked!