Traditional Japanese festivals are always worth seeing as there’s a unique energy that makes each and every one of them enjoyable. But for those involved, the effort to create that dynamic can clearly be exhausting.
On February 11th, which is National Foundation Day, several groups from the far right pay their respects at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine with a parade of sorts and an official Shinto service. By far the most significant gathering, at least in terms of numbers anyway, is the troop pictured below. A ragtag bunch of characters that I’ve been photographing for quite a few years now — some of the results of which can be seen here.
And this Monday, as ever, was no different, with the same flags, and to be fair, the same respectful solemnity. There were several of the same old faces too. The overall number of participants, on the other hand, was very noticeably down. Now whether that is significant or not I really don’t know, but for a date and event that is clearly so important, it seems an odd one to miss.
An outbreak of flu perhaps, or maybe even an outbreak of common sense? A mystery that might be a little clearer next year. But until then, here are just a few photos from an especially cold and grey day.
Miko, or Shinto shrine maidens, can often be seen selling amulets, taking part in ceremonies, or swiftly moving from one building to another. Young, identically dressed women who once had important roles within the religion, but nowadays are generally just University students helping out on a part-time basis.
Still, regardless of their status, or level of training, getting the chance for a quick portrait isn’t a common occurrence. At least not for me it isn’t, anyway. So here — in monochrome as it seemed best suited to the almost timeless nature of her position — is a rare photo of a Miko quietly going about her business.
Dolls sometimes have a very visible role in Japanese culture, such as on Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri), when they are shown both at home, and in public. There are the far more common kokeshi too. So, with this in mind, it’s perhaps not surprising that they are considered more important than other toys or ornaments. Similarly, after being a treasured companion during a child’s upbringing, or on display in the home for many years, simply throwing them away when they aren’t wanted anymore is hard for a lot of people to do. They are reminders of the past, and for some, the dolls are also thought to contain memories, or even have souls.
Hence then the popularity of ningyo kanshasai, which are performed at Shinto shrines, and ningyo kuyo at Buddhist temples — ceremonies that purify the dolls, as well as allowing the owners to say a final thank you and goodbye.
At a recent ningyo kanshasai held at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, this meant a huge amount of departing dolls were carefully put on display before being disposed of.
A staggering array of figures that was intriguing, and at the same time, more than a little unsettling.
Typhoon Jebi may well have been on its way, but this man simply wasn’t going to miss Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine.