Tag Archive for shinto

POTW 22 July 2013: Fushimi Inari

It’s that time of year, when people go on holidays and holiday destinations get… popular. Here is my all time favourite city, Kyoto. In particular this Photo of the Week is of the Torii Gates at Fushimi Inari, from the Temples and Shrines collection. According to Wikipedia, Fushimi Inari was founded in 711 (ironic, Japan loves 7-11) to worship Inari, the god of businesses, merchants, and manufacturers. It is an amazing place to walk through. You can spend an entire morning strolling around the hills where these make paths enjoying a surreal-like adventure land. However, this time of year… and considering it’s Kyoto, take a thermos filled with your favourite cold drink from a vending machine, and a fan; you will sweat.

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POTW 11 March 2013: Targata Fertility Festival & Nuclear Spring

I know today is significant (the second anniversary of the 11th March 2011, earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster), and so today is a double dose of Photo of the Week (POTW). One photo is a cultural event that is something to now especially look forward to and enjoy, and the other is commemorative.

The Tagata Fertility Festival photo below was taken just days after the actual disaster, and it shows people determined to try and enjoy life, despite the horror witnessed days before. Also on the day the photo was taken one of the nuclear reactors exploded. I didn’t know at the time, so I hoped that the wind was blowing away, and I really did have the feeling that being outside, photographing this event, might have been dangerous. I think I only learnt about the reactor explosion when I got home. I now have Reuters and other news outlets in my Twitter feed.

The Tagata Fertility Festival (or ‘Tagata Penis Festival’) attracts a small gathering of about 100,000 people (the old and the young alike), most of whom hope for good fertile fortunes (they are indeed hoping for children or grandchildren for themselves or on the behalf of friends). I have written a fairly detailed summary of the event including cultural comparison, see the Tagata blog tags for the 15th March 2011 blog post, video, and more. More photos are available at my PhotoShelter portfolio, Tagata Fertility Festival Gallery, and at my agents website, Asian Photo Connection.

For information about the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear crisis, nuclear disaster (15th Mar), Fukushima, contaminated food, and nuclear disaster, click on each of those words for a review of blog posts beginning on the 11th March 2011.

Below is a photo from the Nuclear Spring Collection I made just weeks after the actual disaster, see the Nuclear Spring blog search for previous posts. The title “Nuclear Spring” is significant, in that it amalgamates the concepts of Nuclear Winter, Silent Spring, and the time of year the Fukushima disaster occurred. Nuclear Winter is the supposed effect on the weather systems of the world after a nuclear war. Silent Spring is a book written by Rachel Carson in 1962 that describes the effect on the environment after farmers sprayed and killed all the insects. This book is regarded as the birth of the modern environmental movement. Still today, thousands of people are protesting against the continuance of nuclear power in Japan (Japan TodayReuters), and there is a wonderful blog that aims to provide information that the media does not, the Fukushima Diary.

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Fushimi Inari

What a day it was. I had spent the afternoon before walking around town finishing the Jazz Improv collection, and then I spent the morning in Kyoto at Fushimi Inari walking up the mountain and down again. Oww, my calf muscles hurt. This image is available for purchase.

A close up of a lantern with the famous torii (gates) of Fushimi Inari Shrine.

A close up of a lantern with the famous torii (gates) of Fushimi Inari Shrine.

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Ishidori video

Ishidori is the Stone-bringing Festival, an annual Shinto event held on the first weekend of August. It is reputed to be the loudest such festival in Japan. It is not well known, but a very lively festival, and perhaps a best-kept festival secret. The festival apparently dates back to over 300 years, and involves more than 30 portable shrines representing each of the wards (or towns) within Kuwana City. Photos for this festival are being processed and should be available soon at Asia Photo Connection.

In the mean time, here’s the preview.

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Tado Horse Festival

Another annual event was run today. Essentially, they run a drunken youth rider, on a drunken horse, up a drunken mountain (and over a mound). If the horse and rider make it over (preferably together), then that heralds a good rice harvest this season.

In previous years, animal rights groups and the Mie Prefecture Board of Education (concerning especially youth affairs) have complained about this event. Horses are forced to consume alcohol, and the youth who ride them are about 17 years of age, and are drunk themselves. Horses are forced to run over a mound at the top of a steep slope, and there is a risk the horses could get hurt. Often the horses are frightened by the 120,000 spectators cheering the horse and rider on. At the mound that rider’s team try to help or force the horse over by pushing and pulling on the horse. Whilst there is risk to the horse, there are perhaps more risk to the people who have been carried or rushed to hospital in previous years. Furthermore, the animal rights group (I haven’t been able to attain their exact name yet) and the Education Board seem not to be so concerned for long standing cultural rights and traditions.

In any case, it seemed that this year the horse was not frothing at the mouth from too much sake, and the riders didn’t seem drunk at all. The teams standing either side of the track didn’t seem very drunk either. It appears that the fizz had been drained this year; perhaps creating a threat to the sense of community surrounding this event? Time will tell.

News: This year the mound at the top of the slope didn’t appear to have been broken very well, and so it was, as one person put it: ‘ambitious’. On this first day, most horses failed, but only one horse made it over, so there should be a good harvest this year. The horse that made it over was called Ganbare Tohoku (roughly translated as ‘keep trying / keep striving Tohoku’, a reference and call of encouragement to the people of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear stricken region).

For photos taken in previous years, see my Asia Photo Connection and PhotoShelter portfolios. This year I used black and white film (as I’m getting tired of digital), so new photos will be added to this post and my portfolios later.


Tado Horse Festival – Images by Andrew Blyth

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Tagata Fertility Festival video

Despite the recent tragedies, and the near 24/7 constant flow of bad news on the TV, Japanese people in central Japan were wanting to see the Tagata Fertility Festival, also known by many foreigners as the ‘Penis Festival’.

I made a video with a selection of images I took on the day of the Tagata Fertility Festival video. These images are available for purchase for editorial and personal use at my Asia Photo Connection and PhotoShelter portfolios. Also see here for more information about the festival.

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Tagata Fertility Festival

The Tagata Fertility Festival, Tagata Penis Festival, or Tagata Honen Matsuri is the festival that is becoming famous for the large wooden penis that is paraded around a town. It isn’t a celebration of immaturity or pervertedness at all, as many Westerners might assume. It is actually a ceremony to ask for a rich crop harvest, and the phallus is made of fresh cypress pine each year, to symbolise newness, freshness, and fertility.

A penis? From my time in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, I have come to realise some fundamental differences between an Anglo-Western culture (prominent in Britain, North America and Australia) and the Far Eastern countries: we have Catholicism and they have Confucianism and Taoism. This might not be ground breaking news, but it is particularly relevant in understanding why a Japanese Shrine can have a fertility festival in which families and children will attend to the order of 100, 000 attendees annually, but you will not see a phallus nor 100,000 people at a Catholic church. The main fundamental difference is that in Catholicism anything related to sex is considered a sin, and we Westerners must feel guilty about it. However, the Far Eastern countries don’t have this burden of shame, and so they are happy to celebrate and pray for a good harvest, fertility, and use a phallic symbol as well.

So who attended? To my estimation, it seems that the number of people to crowd at Tagata Shrine was far less than 100,000 people (I have seen crowds of 100,000 people and more at other religious festivals in Japan). But this shortfall shouldn’t be surprising; this festival was on the first Tuesday after the 11 March, magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake.

What happens?

In the winter months the wooden phallus is carved by master craftsmen using traditional techniques, and wearing purified clothing. On the day, it is strapped to a saloon and put on display. Here is a great photo opportunity, and there’s never a shortage of happy old men to encourage any lady (of any age) to pose by the big penis. In the early afternoon the phallus is then paraded very slowly through the town. Also paraded are smaller penises, and bamboo trees with white and red-polka dot ribbons. I still need to find out what the ribbons mean, but I guess it’s more about human fertility than crop fertility.

How to get there:

From Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu train company Inuyama line to Inuyama Station for about 25 minutes. Change to a local train on the Komaki Line to Tagata-Jinja Mae Station (lit. Tagata Shrine in-front of Station), for about 11 minutes. The total oneway trip is ¥730, but check Hyperdia.Com for schedules and current ticket prices. From Tagata-Jinja Mae Station just follow the crowd to the event. Some people go to the destination temple, or to the temple where it all begins, or do both.

My images are available on my PhotoShelter Account, and will soon be at Asia Photo Connection. Also, see Wikipedia for more information.

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Stone-bringing Festival

Each year in summer, at the most humid time of year, when it’s really, really, really hot. When people have been dying because of heatstroke and dehydration. The people of Kuwana City have their annual summer festival, known as the the “Stone-bringing Festival”, or “Ishidori” in Japanese.

I’ve asked around, but haven’t been able to get a clear and certain story of what it’s all about. The best guess an educated friend of mine could make is that usually these festivals are  a time when the local people bring offerings of rice to their main local Shinto shrine. Though, one year, there must have been a problem, and so the people couldn’t bring rice. Though, the show must go on. Instead, each town, with their portable shrines deliver a white stone, to represent the rice that they would have brought if they could spare it. For one reason or another, the idea must have stuck and is continued to be repeat to this day. Incidentally, in convenience stores like 7-11, cooked rice balls are available, and make a convenient small meal on the go; much like our sandwiches. I don’t know if they had rice-balls a couple of hundred years ago, but it’s possible, and may explain why a single white stone can so easily represent rice.

During the bombing of the area in World War two, many of the town shrines were destroyed. Each year, even recently, another portable shrine is added to the annual festival, as a replacement for the one they lost 60 years before. It is expected that there would be more portable shrines added in the coming years, at least until all the towns of Kuwana City have a portable shrine again, and perhaps some new comers, too.

All these images are available now at my PhotoShelter account.


Kuwana Ishidori (Kuwana City Stone Brining Festival) – Images by Andrew Blyth

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Japanese Rice

Japanese people are pretty much built from the ground up on rice. They might eat it three times a day. They drink it in the form of the alcohol sake at parties, and end of year parties; for ceremonies like weddings, funerals, and engagements.

The very origin of Shinto, and all of its symbols are related to humble rice. The very architecture of  Shinto shrines, throughout Japan, is based upon early rice storage buildings in the pre-Shinto era a little more than two-thousand years ago. It is said that rice and sake play a central role in secret Shinto ceremonies that involve popular festivals, and even the emperor and his family. It’s perhaps not inaccurate to say that Japan, and the Japanese people, were built on rice.

Rice – Images by Andrew Blyth

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