Mitama Matsuri at Kudanshita : Honouring the spirits of the dead

It’s July and time for the summer festivals to kick-in. The weekend has the lantern light-up at Odaiba but before that I made my way in the evening on a weekday to Kudanshita. At the Yasukuni Shrine they have an interesting festival in mid-July, a Shinto festival honoring the dead in Japan!!! The poster said 69th year, so not that very historically old festival at that…
Mitama Matsuri - Yasukuni Shrine at Kudanshita A mid summer celebration of the spirits of the ancestorsAlthough the festival is about paying respects to lost relatives and friends, it is by no means a somber mood, but one with a lot of lantern decorations at the shrine. The entry walk as I entered there was decorated with 40 foot high walls of more than 30,000 lanterns, and thousands of visitors come to pay respects to their lost relatives and friends. The Yukata clad women walking in front of me got my camera started…. an oriental feel with some western clothed ladies on either sides…
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaCertainly the most impressive aspect of the festival is watching the teams carry the large mikoshi (portable shrine) down the pathway leading to the shrine. The dark night and the colors of the mikoshi decorations are an awesome contrast an exciting Japanese tradition that should not be missed.
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaThe thing which caught my attention was the below lanterns. In India we have similar lanterns in the time of festival of lights, Diwali and they very closely resemble them.
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaThe colorful lanterns are a delight to watch in the night with high power lamps lights focussing on them. Splendid colors indeed. The crowds began to swell as the office goers started to make their way back and stopping by at the festival
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaThe lanterns were now lit and the overall mood with the cool summer breeze made for a festive atmosphere.  Just in front of the main Torii (gate) preparations were beginning for the large mikoshi to be transported to the shrine.Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaAround the main entrance there were dances being organized, the typical Awa-Odori which is about going round and round as a group and clapping in rhythm to the tunes being played. For me, an Indian this resembles the Gujarati dance Garba.. something like that. The dance is around the bronze statue of Masujiro Omura, known as the “Father of the Modern Japanese Army”
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaOf special interest was this Aomori-Nebuta show. “Nebuta” refers to the float of a brave warrior-figure which is carried through the center of the city, while dancers wearing a unique type of costume called haneto dance around in time with the chant Rasserā. Quite an energetic performanceMitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaThere used to be so many food stalls on both sides of the way to the shrine selling from grilled squid, okonomiyaki, grilled fish, takoyaki to kebab. No more…. from 2015 the stalls have been banned since many youngsters due to the presence of food stalls gathered around to drink, eat and created a ruckus in the past few years. SAD…. The good part? You had to wait in line, as over the course of the festival 300,000 people attend, but this year with no food stalls the space was much more wider and lesser crowds. Its actually good to since the fumes from various stalls would actually cloud the lantern display.
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaThe place gets too noisy every year, but this year the mood was quite solemn and the original intent (honoring the spirits of the dead) seemed to be held up to a large extent. I actually am against reinstating the food stalls.
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaLong lines to pray and offer tributes at the main hall of the Yasukuni shrine is as-is every year. Crowded long line, takes an hour to reach the main hall.
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaBeautiful sand lamp and the lanterns in the evening at the Mitama Matsuri. A music show also was part of the celebrations. Since it was a week day I had a teleconference in the night, so I decided to skip and return back home.. The realities of a salary-man’s life.
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at KudanshitaIf you are in Tokyo mid July, do visit the Yasukuni Shrine on the Tozai Line Kudanshita Station. On the way back passed by the statue of Yajiro Shinagawa, an ex-samurai from the Meiji-era. His stern look was interesting. he should be happy that people were celebrating spirits, including him, just around the corner at the Shrine…. ha ha..
Mitama Matsuri (Festival) at Kudanshita

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