Tokyo Diaries – The Lion and the Miko

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Yes, it’s a dance video on the net with no twerking.

Exams are over, and now it’s a long weekend (a three-day weekend, in fact – the Autumnal Equinox is a national holiday here.  Why are equinoxes holidays in Japan, but not solstices?  That’r probably too much text for inside parentheses, so maybe it’s a topic for another post) waiting for results.  Fortunately there’s plenty to do in Tokyo – well, there’s always plenty to do in Tokyo – with festivals to spare, including one right in my own neighborhood.

Kagurazaka, my village, literally means “Shinto ceremonial dance slope”, so it’s safe to say we have a long history with matsuri here.  I have no idea if Akagi Jinja is the main shrine that the town was built around but it’s the largest today, and this weekend is their annual matsuri.  It’s small-scale compared to many of the big festivals, but it’s mine – it’s always special to have a matsuri in your own backyard.  The daylight pics are from there, including the lion dancer.

The other pics and videos are from Nezu Jinja, which also holds its annual matsuri this weekend.  I have a “Diaries” post from Nezu already – it’s one of the most beautiful shrines in Tokyo, and includes an Inari Shrine that’s a kind of mini-Fushimi with hundreds of small orange torii gates.  The highlight of the Nezu festival is the Kagura dances held in the evenings.  I’m weak for Miko anyway, but get a bunch of them dancing with fans and the game is pretty much over.

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  1. L

    I'm still amazed how picturesque and atmospheric your posts on Japan seem to be. The pics seems to come straight from a Ghibli flick and kind of jump out at me like they're going RAH RAH.

  2. Thanks. It's funny, because I always look at my photos and I'm enormously disappointed by 95% of them because they never seem to capture the moment the way I want them to. It's all perception, I guess.

  3. e

    The dancing lion is clad in green *love*! Awwwwdowable squeling kiddies *more love*!
    Plus miko. Many of them. And it's not a dream either. *lovelove*

  4. e

    About why the fall equinox is so celebrated… I remmber one of the reason was the belief the Moon shines the brightest on that day.
    And the rest is related to the dead and to the living's relief for the end of Summer heat. A quick recap in English is here:
    and some more bits here:
    And maybe there's a bit of Chinese mythology percolating here too… ' By and large, the most popular story surrounding the moon’s link to this holiday involves Chang’e (the Moon Goddess of Immortality). As the story goes, Chang’e lived at a time when the world had 10 suns. While normally only one of these suns would take to the sky each day, once they all ascended together, setting fire to the earth and destroying crops. The emperor in charge called on renowned archer Houyi to shoot down nine of the suns – a task he successfully completed. In return, the emperor gifted Houyi with a pill of immortality.

    When Houyi’s wife Chang’e got hold of the pill and took it, however, she flew and landed on the moon where she remains to this day. (China’s lunar exploration program is appropriately named after her.) Houyi, on the other hand, ended up on the sun. On the day of the Mid-Autumn Festival, the two are reunited and the moon glows at its brightest all year.' —-> from here:

    One bit that leaves me curious is the meaning of the lion in the Aki Higan. Because the lion is tied to the Sun but it's more of a Middle-Eastern Zoroasthrian thing.

  5. It not just this one, it's both equinoxes and neither solstice that are holidays. I just find that interesting.

    The lion dance is a pretty eponymous Japanese tradition – I've seen it at a lot of festivals, even back in SF. If they bite your head you're supposed to have good luck for a year.

  6. R

    Wishing you awesome results from the exams! The kids in your video are super cute, especially that little girl. It's pretty cool to have a matsuri right in your backyard that people from and outside of your neighbourhood can have fun together. Did you get your head bitten by the lion?

  7. No, they mostly bite the kids, and TBH I suspect they'd be worried that any gaijin they go after might not understand the context and get all upset. They wouldn't, of course, but the general mindset among Japanese is that anyone who isn't Japanese will be utterly ignorant of and baffled by anything Japanese.

  8. R

    Sounds like open-mindedness and inclusivity are foreign concepts to the Japanese — I guess they are deeply rooted in their traditions and cultural values.

  9. Don't get me wrong, I think this attitude is rarely malicious in intent – it's just a deep-seated belief that everything about Japan is so "Japanese" that no one else could possibly understand it. It's important to remember that among all the great powers, Japan is by far the most isolationist historically. All those hundreds of years of closed ports and no exposure to foreigners (especially Westerners) are deeply ingrained in the culture.

  10. Z

    And it's not helped by all those Nihonjinron books that seem to make the bestsellers lists.

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