One of the best things about being in Japan in the summer is the various neighborhood festivals. Depending on the neighborhood and its guardian shrine, the festival can take place any time of the year, but summer seems to be the most popular season.
Historically, Haneda, the neighborhood just north of the mouth of the Tama River–best known these days for Tokyo’s busy domestic, and increasingly international, airport–, was a fishing village. And this is the history that 800 year old Haneda Jinja celebrates with its annual festival.
The festivities begin at sunset on Friday, July 28, and culminate Sunday afternoon with a parade of 14 o-mikoshi from various small shrines dotted around the area. Sunday’s parade starts from Benten-bashi at 3:00 pm.
O-mikoshi are portable shrines. The main part of the o-mikoshi is a miniature shrine structure, often gilded and ornately decorated. It sits on four massive crossed bars, which enable it to be carried around in spite of its size and weight. Most shrines possess at least one and frequently each sub-neighborhood in the vicinity of the shrine owns and maintains its own o-mikoshi.
The idea of an o-mikoshi is that at certain times of the year (namely festival time) the god of the particular shrine, which usually remains inside the shrine building, is “transferred” into the o-mikoshi and carried around the neighborhood to allow the god to inspect, bless, or do whatever else the god chooses to do. In other words, the o-mikoshi is a palanquin for the god.
While Sunday afternoon’s parade of o-mikoshi is the highlight of the festival, on Saturday and Sunday the grounds of Haneda Jinja (10 minute walk from Ootori station on the Keihin Kyuko line) and the grounds of Anamori Inari Jinja (3 minute walk from Anamori Inari station on the Keihin Kyuko line) will be filled with concession stands offering various traditional fair foods (everything from okonomi-yaki to chocolate covered bananas) and souvenir items. There will also be traditional music and dancing, as well as various religious rites. The atmosphere of these festivals is always lively and fun.
It is said that the o-mikoshi of Haneda Jinja are carried in a wild swaying that is said to emulate a boat on particularly rough waves. It is perhaps because of this peculiarity that it takes some 3,000 people to carry the 14 o-mikoshi of this parade.
Back when it was a fishing village, the Haneda area was also prone to frequent flooding. Anamori Inari Shrine was founded in the early 19th century to protect the village from floods. It was originally located on the site of the current airport. One of the shrine’s old torii gates still stands on the Ebitori River overlooking the airport. Some of the festival activities will also take place here.
Of course just wandering around the organized confusion of a Japanese festival can be a lot of fun, but if you’d like to gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on, the Ota City Foreign-language Volunteer Guide Group is offering guided tours in English and Chinese from 2:30 to 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. The meeting point is on the grounds of Anamori Inari Shrine (normally a 3 minute walk from Anamori Inari station on the Keihin Kyuko airport line but in the festival crowds, expect it will take much longer). Look for a sign saying “Ota City Foreign-language Volunteer Guide Group”. Be sure to arrive no later than 2:15 to ensure that you can join the tour (maximum 30 participants).