Festivals, Japan, Photography, travel

Hotaru gari – Catching fireflies

The rainy season brings along fireflies that can be seen near rivers or lakes. Fireflies play an important role in the japanese culture, they can be seen in old paintings and even I the popular animation the grave of the fireflies.

Similar to sakura (cherry blossom) fireflies brings families together to go away from the city center to the country side and appreciate the beauty of the fireflies, this tradition is called Hotaru-gari in Japanese.

Nowadays is becoming more and more difficult to see these insects (it is believed that pollution is decreasing the population), that’s why fussa city is my recommended spot to increase the chances of spotting more of these insects. makes it a more special place to see them.

Fussa city’s firefly festival releases more than 500 fireflies to the river for people to enjoy. Similar events can be found all around Japan, but often kept unadvertised and for the locals only.

Full details of the event:

http://discoverjapan.info/Details/FussaCityfireflyfestival

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Japan, Photography, travel

Sanja matsuri

According to the legend, a statue of the Kannon (deity for mercy) was found in the river by two fishermen in the year of 628. The chief of their village recognized the sanctity of the statue and rebuilt his own house into a temple for the villagers to worship Kannon. This is how Senso-ji was founded, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo and an Icon of Japan often featured on books and movies.

Every year, the 3rd weekend of May, Senso-ji honors these 3 founders of the temple (Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakamoto) with the largest and wildest festival in Tokyo. During this 3 days celebration they have multiple activities and performances, where the highlight is the parade of the 3 big mikoshis (portable shrines) carried around the streets by different groups of people. This is also a unique opportunity to see Yakusa (Japanese mafia) members, as they traditionally join the festival to carry their Mikoshi show their very distinctive tattoos.

Thousands of people attend to this festival, it gets so crowded that it is difficult to move around, especially around the main Temple, but still very entertaining and a must see festival if you are near Tokyo.

Full details (When, where, how and more) can be found here: http://discoverjapan.info/Details/AsakusaSanjaMatsuri

The following are some pictures I took of the event

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Festivals, Japan, Photography, Tokyo, travel

Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara Matsuri

Mid May, the weather starts warming up and so the festivals in japan. The Shibuya Kagoshima Ohara matsuri is just a reproduction of its original festival in Kagoshima (more than 1000 km away from Tokyo), but yet it was an enjoyable event where I had the chance learn a little bit about the traditions specific to the Kagoshima prefecture.

Shibuya is famous for its crowded and lively streets, so at first sight I didn’t really notice anything different than usual (it was crowded as always), but then I realized that there was actually a parade about to start. Celebrated on the streets west side of the Shibuya JR station (commonly known as the Hachiko square), thousands of performers get together to dance ohara music, wear traditional Japanese clothes and promote tourism in Kagoshima. In addition to the parade, they also have a taiko concert (Japanese drums), and some Kagoshima street food.

One thing for sure, this festival made me want to travel to Kagoshima to see the original festival in November, which is supposed to last for 2 days and is supposed to be packed with a lot more activities. Of course Kagoshima shines by itself for its amazing onsens (hotsprings) and hot sand bath, all of these combined with an awesome festival could be the perfect formula to a great vacation.

Full details (Where, when and how) can be found here: http://discoverjapan.info/Details/ShibuyaKagoshimaOharaMatsuri

The following are the pictures I took during this festival

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Art, Culture, Festivals, Japan, Outdoors, Photography, travel

Tama Genryu matsuri (Headstream Festival) Kosuge, Yamanashi

Drums being played in front of a fire with a flame taller than 5 meters next to the river, prayers for clean water and fire. A ritual I thought I could only see in movies is the highlight of the Genryu festival.

This is a daylong festival loaded with many events and performances. This area is known for its fish and wasabi which is sold at the event by many food stalls during the performances. However, the highlight of the day starts around 6:00 pm with a taiko performance (Japanese drums) as they start lighting the torches. After a few words, they proceed to burn 3 big piles of straw while the drums continue to play. The ritual ends with a display of fireworks.

Although it was a difficult transportation, I rate this as one of my top favorite fire festivals in Japan. Surprisingly not very well known by many tourist, I was literally the only foreigner in the crowd. The following are just a few pictures I took during this trip.

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Festivals, Japan, Photography, Sakura, Tokyo

Sakura madness – Photographs of numerous festivals

The Sakura tree (cherry tree) is one of the strongest symbols in Japan, it can be found in the 100¥ coins, poems, paintings, music, cloths, food, even Starbucks made a Sakura flavored coffee. It is a source of inspiration and a delight for Japanese people. It has been like this for centuries, and it will continue like this for many more generations.

Sakura trees last in full bloom only for a little longer than two weeks. For many it is a symbol of how beautiful and short life is, frequently compared to the life of the samurai (not very sure why the life of a samurai is beautiful though). Sakura season is also a season to say goodbye for students graduating from college who start a new life in their new job.  Parents say goodbye to their sons and daughters as they become independent, many of them get reallocated to different cities as required by their new employers.

Short life and new life calls for celebration and certainly Japanese people know how to do it: drinking, eating and awesome Sakura decorations and illuminations. I call these two weeks the “Sakura madness”. They have a Sakura forecast that people follow very closely to find out when and where are the most beautiful Sakura trees in full bloom. The most popular areas will usually host Sakura festivals with street food stalls, people bring their picnic mat and enjoy the moment drinking and eating with friends and/or family. Many people wake up very early in the morning to “reserve” an space with their picnic mat and wait for their guests. This tradition is called “hanami”.

The famous “hanami” parties and Sakura festivals are definitely a must see and do. There are lots of popular places for hanami, the following are just a few that I covered this year:

Nakameguro Sakura Festival

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Kawazuzakura Festival

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Midtown blossom

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Kasai Rinkai Park

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Sankeien Garden

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Chidori-ga-fuchi

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