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Japan – Mikoshi 神輿 Parade at Yushima Tenjin

Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeI was fortunate enough to chance upon a mikoshi 神輿 parade when I was at Yushima Tenjin for its Plum Blossom Festival. Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeA mikoshi 神輿 is a divine palanquin or portable Shinto shrine which transports a deity while moving between main shrine and temporary shrine during a festival or when moving to a new shrine. During festivals, they bring the mikoshi around the neighbourhood to bring blessings to the area.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalSaying a prayer before the mikoshi procession. People sign up to be mikoshi bearers as they believe they can get a bountiful harvest or blessings for the year.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAnd off goes the parade. Such processions usually start and end at a Shinto shrine.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAs they parade down the street, mikoshi bearers will shout a loud chant to encourage themselves to carry a palaquin that can weigh over a tonne. There are 4 different styles of shouldering, all with a different chant. The beareres may also toss the mikoshi to ‘amuse’ the diety inside.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade
The most common method of shouldering in Japan is “Hira-katsugi 平担ぎ” where the beareres shout “wasshoi わっしょい,” and may or may not toss the mikoshi. For the “Edomae style | 江戸前” which is seen at the Asakusa Sanja Festival, bearers shout “say ya, soi ya, sah, sorya” and sway the mikoshi rapidly.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade“Dokkoiドッコイ ” shouldering style is seen in Shonan in Kanagawa Prefecture where the mikoshi is moved up and down rhythmically, and more slowly than in the Edomae style. Bearers shout “dokkoi dokkoi dokkoi sorya” and there is a song called a “jink” (lively song).

Multiple mikoshi is used for the “Odawara style 小田原担ぎ where the mikoshis meet and run in a “Holy Dash”, shouting “oisah…korasah…koryasah” and there is a song called a “Kiyari” chant. Instead of swaying the mikoshi, it is moved from side to side and turning corners at full speed.Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi Parade

Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeWhat caught my attention were these men in traditional fundoshi (loincloth).Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeAt 10 degrees celsius – don’t you feel cold?! *feeling shy*Yushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeYushima Tenjin - Mikoshi ParadeThe palanquins return to Yushima Tenjin after the procession. It was an interesting cultural experience that I appreciated. Do try to catch one too the next time you visit Japan.


Japan, Tokyo – Plum Blossoms at Yushima Tenjin

Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEvery year, the arrival of plum blossoms (ume 梅) herald the start of spring. These beauties typically bloom between February and March. The event is celebrated with plum festivals (ume matsuri 梅祭り) in public parks, shrines and temples across the country.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalI was happy to view the plum blossoms at Yushima Tenjin Shrine right in Tokyo.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin 湯島天神,also known as Yushima Tenmangu 湯島天満宮, is a Shinto shrine originally built in 458 A.D. to worship Ameno Tajikaraono Mikoto 天手力雄命, one of deities associated with strength and sports. Later in February 1355, the spirit of Sugawara Michizane 菅原道真, a historical figure, was also enshrined here to venerate his extraordinary virtue as a scholar.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom Festival
Due to Tenjin’s great love of plum blossoms, Yushima Tenjin maintains a garden of 300 plum trees made up of 20 varieties (Shirokaga white plums). The shrine also holds a yearly plum blossom festival (ume matsuri 梅祭り) every Feb-March depending on when the flowers bloom.
Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalBefore the Nara period, the term hanami (flower viewing) in Japan referred to the act of admiring plum blossoms before becoming almost exclusively linked with sakura by the Heian Period (794–1185).

Lord Sugawara wrote a famous poem that read:
“Let the east wind blow and send your fragrance
Oh, plum blossoms
Do not forget the spring
Even though your master is gone”Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalLike cherry trees, the Japanese plum (also referred to as Japanese apricot) come in many varieties, many of which were cultivated by humans over the centuries. Most plum blossoms have five petals and come  in colors from white to dark pink. Some varieties with more than five petals (yae-ume) and ‘weeping’ branches (shidare-ume) have also been cultivated.

Some ways to tell plum and cherry blossoms apart – cherry blossoms have split-ended petals while plum blossoms don’t. Several cherry blossoms bloom from a single oval bud, whereas there’s only one plum blossom per round bud. And, unlike cherry blossoms, plum blossoms have a strong, sweet fragrance.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin is also popular with students who come to present petitions on wooden votive tablets (ema) to Lord Sugawara’s spirit for success in examinations.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalOmikuji 御神籤Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEveryone going shutter-happy with the pretty blossomsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalIt’s also a great time to get married under the picturesque floral canopyYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAnother wedding coupleYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalEven birds join in the celebrationsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAlong with the plum blossoms, a month-long matsuri festival consisting various events such as food stalls, performances, a mikoshi 神輿 (portable Shinto shrine) procession, tea ceremonies, bonsai plum trees display and other traditional Japanese art forms are also held at the shrine during weekends and public holidays.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalTraditional tea ceremonyYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalFood stalls selling local produce from the various Japanese regions. I would say it is a great place to buy some local gifts home.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalThese were yummy!Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalThe handmade zaru soba totally changed my impression of the dish – the noodles were springy and amazingly satisfying I drank up all the sauce hee. Slurppp!Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalBuying blessingsYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalFree cultural performancesYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalAnd yes, this is the 59th year the festival is held.Yushima Tenjin Plum Blossom FestivalPraying for blessings before the mikoshi processionYushima Tenjin Plum Blossom Festival

Yushima Tenjin Shrine 湯島天神 (Tenmangu 天満宮)
3-30-1 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, 〒113-0034 Tokyo
Opening Times: 6:00AM – 8:00PM daily
Nearest Train Stations:
– Yushima 湯島 Station, Exit 3 on Oeda and Chiyoda subway lines, 2mins walk (easiest)
– City bus 02 and 69, Stop at Yushima San-Cho-Me 湯島三丁目, 2mins walk
– Ueno-hirokoji 上野広小路 Station, Exit A4 on Ginza subway line, 5mins walk
– Hongo San-cho-me 本郷三丁目Station on Marunouchi Line, 8mins walk
– Okachimachi 御徒町 Station on JR Line, 8mins walk

Best times to view plum blossoms: Yushima Tenmangu Shrine  Flower information (usually mid-Feb to early-March)