Saturday, May 31, 2008

wasshoi, wasshoi - downtown tokyo in may

What’s there to see in Tokyo in May, when the Sakura blossom is all gone, you may ask. Plenty –
It was ashort vacation, over the Vesak holiday weekend from 16-19May, an immersion in things Japanese & partake of their traditional festival, the Sanjya Matsuri - 三社祭- of Tokyo.

16 May, Friday:
3:42 pm – took the Keisei Express 京成特急that left Narita Airport for Uneno - 上野. At ¥1000 (S$13.50) it's the most economical mode of transport to downtown Tokyo, other than by walk.

It’s a private railway line and it’s not part of the JR network.(formerly the Japan National Railway network, any way all railway lines are privatized now in Japan.). The train stops long the major stations. As it was early evening and the school has just ended, many of the passengers were students.

4:4pm - 八幡駅 – Yawata Station – a group of five to six middle schools female students in uniform of skirt, high socks and leather shoes disembarked As they departed they wished each other - バイバイ – bai bai – instead of. The old lady - お婆さん- obasan - sitting next to me frowned on hearing this greeting. Sayoonara - さようなら - Japanese goodbye ended with the Showa era - 昭和 - she must be thinking. This is already into the 20th year of Heisei - 平成 – the reign year of the present Emperor..

As it was just 5pm on arrival at Ueno & still early before changing to the JR Chuo line - 中央線 - for Shinjuku, 新宿I decided to take a stroll in the vicinity of the station.

As I got out of the Keisei Station and headed towards the direction of Shinobu Lake - ,不忍池 - lo and behold – the first sight building in sight was the - オクラ劇場 – Okura Theatre. – Adult Movies – in bold and English. You don’t need to know Japanese to get around here!

Me gosh, would it be the start of a trip of vices again this time around! Well, anyway, it looks kind of familiar, this building here. Did you not remember the old man at the box-office asking to show the student pass for a discounted ticket?

Look at the arrow pointing to the basement, and the 500円- display above the door way. It seems that that is the only price that has not changed over the decades, and with skyrocketing inflation of food and commodities, it has gotten cheaper instead. At ¥500 (S$6.75) per entry it's a steal for a movie, considering a ticket for a first run the movie for adults will easily go from ¥1500 ($$20.25) upwards.

Heading down Chuo-dori – 中央道りーa main thoroughfare – towards the direction of Akihabara I chanced upon this prettily attired maiden sitting by the pedestrian pavement. It’s early evening and she has just started out on her trade.

Well, I was taken by her youthfulness and attracted to the written characters of her trade. She could easily set up her stall in Kereta Ayer – Chinatown, and folks who read Chinese can choose from her list of expertise and the manner they want their fortune to be told by her. Of her list of divination skills - 易占-–うらない - urani - divination - yizan (hanyu pinyin), she could do -

手相 - tesoo –palmistry - shouxiang
人相 – jinsoo – physiognomy - renxiang
九星気学 – kyuusei kigaku – astrology - jiuxin chizue

Look, I told you, you don’t have to know Japanese to understand Japanese – as long as you know Kanji - 漢字 - the Chinese characters.

17May, Saturday :
The main item on this trip is to go for the Sanjya Festival. – 三社祭 – sanjya matsuri. It is next on the cultural calendar after the cherry blossom viewing season – hanami – 花見 in April.

The festival centers around downtown Tokyo – the shitamachi - 下町 – around Asakusa in the 台東区 - Taito district NE of Tokyo. For 3 days consecutive days, from 16-18May, the streets and lanes in this neighborhood resonated with the sound of drums, flute and the chant of - wasshoi, wasshoi - from early dawn to night. Sanjya or Sanja matsuri is considered one of the three great shinto festivals in the cultural calendar of Tokyo

Similar to Taipusam & the parading kavadi with shouts of - vel, vel the parade of mikoshi- –お御輿 - portable shrine - is accompanied by a chorus of – wasshoi, wasshoi - to keep the group in tap and rhyme, and as call of encouragement.

The suspension of the parade of the three main mikoshi/s from the main shrine Sensoji Temple - 浅草寺 – this year did not dampen the festivity of the Sanjya festival 。Groups of men and women in traditional workman garb bore the mikoshi in tight shoulder-to-shoulder formation. They would amble in a dance like unison as they parade along the streets and lanes of old Tokyo – the Edo district-江戸。

The Sanjya festival reflects the Japanese character of teamwork & determination and in Chinese it would put it as – 有重同担,有乐共享 – you zhong tong dan, you le gong xiang – young, old, male, female – each have a fun time together bearing the heavy mikoshi - and togethr enjoying its blessings. Sanjya heralds the beginning of summer in Tokyo.

What is this traditional attire of the participants – you may ask.

Well, though simple as it may look, the festival garb has different layers of clothing article from the traditional fashion. Here they are – from head to toe, inside out -

鉢巻 -はちまき- hachimaki -headband
The headband is from a piece of cloth twined into a rope like band and tie around the fore head. A familia sight would be the fishmongers in the Tsukiju whole sale market - some would similarly tie their cotton towel on their head.

半纏-はんてん - hanten – short coat
This is workman’s livery coat. The short coat of the mikoshi bearers must be issued by the participating teams within the district. At the back of each coat is printed a big crest - symbol of the district – which they represents.

木札 -きふだ – kifuda – wooden tag
A wooden tag hung around the neck – written with words as amulet or charm.

鯉口 - こいくち –だぼしゃつ – koi guchi or tabosyatsu
A sort of a light cotton vest worn inside the hanten and printed with traditional motif

帯  -おび – obi - belt
The way to tie the belt is over the lower waist below the belly and close to the butt behind. In the same manner, when a male puts on a kimono, the obi should not be tie high up and above the belly button, as it will look unmanly.

褌  -ふんどうし - fundoshi - loincloth
A traditional Japanese underwear made from a strip of white cotton cloth of 6尺 - rokkshaku - one yard – in length. This is solely worn by the male participants.

お腰巻き -おこしまき – okoshimaki – waist band
The waist band covers the abdomen and discreetly hid part of the butt.

地下足袋 -ちかたび – tabi - socks
Is of cloth, however the new version has rubber soles to cushion the impact from the trodding. The bearer is carrying nearly a half tone mikoshi & has to tread on the road 2-3 hours on end. Instead of tabi, some teams would put on 草履 – ぞうり - zoori - or straw sandals, as their tradition dictates.

The photograph of the four fellow men getting dressed up for the occation was taken at the Sensoji aka the Asakusa Temple. The male bearers do not wear any pants with the hanten, though the were teams that do. This set of attire is basically the traditional workman's wear - in summer. Baring one's legs, and discreetly exposing one's butt is nothing vulgar or haram about it. On the contary is it is sign of macho-ness. This is Japanese folk culture - alive and kicking in this modern metropolis.

So much for the Sanjya, and Tokyo in May..

Postscript :

1. Fishing net crest –
The symbol of three fishing net – representing the three men who founded the Sensoji Temple when the fished out a statue of the Kanon – Goddess of Mercy – from the nearby river 1370years ago. The Sanjya Matsuri is in commemoration of the founders, as Shinto deities

2. Suspension of the parade of the main mikoshi/s
As reported in the festival leaflet -
例年斉行されている本社神輿の [宮出し] [各町渡御] [宮入り] は中止となります。*町内神輿は各町で渡御されます。

Last year the ST carried a photo article on 27May2007 – on the festival , titled : A Spirited Defiance

- Men riding on a portable shrine during the Sanjya festival in Tokyo on Sunday, in defiance of an agreement between the Asakusa Shrine and shrine-bearers’ groups that prohibits such disrespectful behavior. The festival is in honor of three residential deities at the shrine.

The suspension was because of this misconduct of the mikoshi bearers last year. Underlying the mikoshi parade and festival – it’s also an occasion for the Japanese underworld - the yakuza – to parade their influence,

3. Japanese measurement
1尺 = one shaku = 0.994 foot = 30.3 centimeters
6尺 = 1.99 yards = 1.82 meters

4. haram - against morality, illegal - in Malay language
5. handphone camera

It’s the first trip to Japan without carrying a proper camera pe se. The photographs were taken using the Sony Erricsson K530i handphone camera. Pretty satisfied with the quality of the shots

5. Weblink: