Tag Archive for religious

Visiting Sensoji Temple, Tokyo #POTW

This Photo of the Week (POTW) is of Miyu at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo (Wikipedia). This photo was taken on my first day ever in Tokyo. Yes, I have been in Japan for many years, and have never taken a trip to Tokyo ever before. I had just dropped my bag off at the hotel, not being able to check in until 3pm. I met up with my model and we made our way to Sensoji Temple and created a great set of photos.

But this photo

Miyu at Sensoji Temple, with Tokyo Skytree Tower in the background.


Sensoji Temple is probably the first religious site in the area that later became a town, city, and then “Tokyo”. It is said that in 628AD two fisherman came across a small gold statue of Buddha in the near by river, which also marked the approximate location that the temple should be. The statue is so sacred that it has long been hidden away from public view (if it still or ever has existed). Consequently, this temple was probably the first and oldest tourist attraction in Tokyo. The site was bombed in World War II, and has been rebuilt partly as a symbol of resurrection of the city. Today, it is the most visited ‘tourist site’ in Tokyo and possibly Japan for overseas tourists. I heard people speaking English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Korean, (probably) Thai and Vietnamese, and of course Japanese.

Photo galleries: Alamy, Ana, Joanie, Miyu, Tokyo.

Cost: Free.

Where: Closest subway station is Asakusa Station on the Ginza Line of the Tokyo Metro.

When: Any time of year. Best is obviously when the cherry blossoms (sakura) are in bloom, early summer, and Autumn with the changing colour of the leaves. Best to go early in the morning before 10am before the crowds get to thick, and in the evening when it’s beautifully lit.

What to see: Kaminarimon Gate, Sensoji Temple, Nakamise Street (shopping & souvenirs), Tokyo Skytree Tower (a 17min walk away), the kabuki and geisha districts.

A view of Nakamise Street filled with stalls selling souvenirs for tourists, and at the end if Sensoji Temple.


What to do: Enjoy the sights. Take a rickshaw ride and tour of the area. Enjoy a kabuki performance in the area.

What to eat: Surprisingly, there are a lot of restaurants that say they have English and Chinese menus. A lot of restaurants have pictures or wax samples of their food on display out the front. It is possible to find a good hearty meal for under ¥500 (USD$5), but more usually about or under ¥1,000 (USD$10). Also see food.

A ramen restaurant in Asakusa.


Where to stay: There are many hotels in the area, which are reasonably priced. This area is on one of the main subway lines, which gives good access to much of the other interesting places in Tokyo. The Ginza Line of Tokyo Metro gives you straight line access to the famous Ginza district, and Shibuya.

Friends enjoying dining out at street eateries.

Art: New Religion

It’s not often I get to release a new batch of art photos into the wild. This collection is simply called New Religion. The base set of images are of Fushimi Inari Shrine and Daigo Temple in Kyoto, whilst the second are of commercial scenes including shops near Fushimi Inari Shrine, and Sakae and Osu shopping areas of Nagoya. New Religion, I hope, will have people pause and reconsider the things they worship, the daily and weekly rituals they have, as well as the intellectual and spiritual nourishment they get. Some of these images will be displayed at the up coming Foreign Artists Exhibition. Stay tuned for details.

All images are available for sale at the New Religion gallery. Available for download, and as high quality gallery-standard prints.

New Religion – Images by Andrew Blyth

photo of the week 19 Sept 2011

For a few weeks now I’ve been doing a “Photo of the week” on my Twitter feed. I’m choosing the nice photos of something relevant now or soon, or just personal favourites that need a gentle nudge into the spot light. However, I have got concerned that I might repeat a couple of photos accidentally, perhaps to the annoyance of followers who are eager to see what’s coming out of the land of the rising sun, so this begins my ad hoc cataloguing attempt. Seriously, there are people who do look forward to seeing what’s new from me. I’m not surprised, I do look forward to my daily Dilbert and Sinfest comics.

This Photo Of The Week (POTW) is being promoted now, six months in advance, so that editors can organise their material and choose my photo for it. As you can see, it’s a stunner. And as you can see, it’s a public event and children were there. Here is my blog entry about the Tagata Fertility Festival, held annually in March in Nagoya, Japan.


Here is a list of previous POTW.

Toyohashi Fire Festival: http://t.co/P0azYYA

Mt Fuji and Japan Airlines in the same photo: http://t.co/qsAF8Ye

Cute Cosplay girls: http://t.co/4vzhenF

Ishidori photos

The photos from this year’s Stone-bringing Festival (Ishidori) are available at Asia Photo Connection. The Stone-bringing Festival is an event that is probably over three hundred years old. I’ve written about this before (Tag: Ishidori), and there is also some good information about Ishidori on Wikipedia. I’m making this information available for free in the hope that you’d find it useful and would buy my photos. Which reminds me, buy my photos.

Clicking on the picture below will take you to a gallery of my Ishidori photos on Asia Photo Connection, and my Ishidori PhotoShelter gallery from previous years.

The lower portion of a portable-shrine and it's town-members at the annual Stone-bringing Festival.

The annual Stone-bringing Festival (Ishidori Matsuri) at Kuwana City is the loudest festival in Japan.

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.

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.

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, they still had to made a ceremonial offering. 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.

This is an annual event, with the main event held on the first Sunday of August. The festival begins on Friday/Saturday night at the stroke of midnight, when all the towns simultaneously strike their drums and cymbals, and the interesting part of the festival begins. They parade the town portable shrines around Kuwana city until about 10am, they get some rest, and resume in the late afternoon. The festival is considered the loudest in Japan. The best time to go is perhaps Saturday late afternoon / evening. You can be there for a very long time (until Sunday morning, after the last train had departed).

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 portfolio.

Tado Horse Festival

Phew! What a day. I felt like I was in the army today, “hurry up and wait”, and a lot of standing. As I type this, I’m cooling off with a can of Suntory Premium beer. It was the sort of day that was the end of spring, but people’s wardrobes had not kept up. There was a guy who chose to wear a knitted beanie; I’m sure you could call it a ‘seasonal-wardrobe miscalculation’.


The Tado horse festival is an annual religious event held at a Shinto Shrine. The basics are that a drunken horse is ridden up a drunken steep slope by a drunken rider. Seriously, they get the horse drunk, the rider is drunk, and they splash copious amounts of sake (Japanese rice wine-like alcohol) on the slope and obstacle. If the horse and rider make it over the slope, then that heralds a good rice harvest later in the year.

Buy Tado Horse Festival photo


Religious preparations:

Accurate information on this event is hard to gather, as each person can tell you a fragment of what they know of this event, and sometimes these fragments contradict what other people have said. But from what I think I can reliably gather is this. For a couple of weeks before the event, the riders are kept in a kind of religious quarantine. They are fed traditional food, partake in specialised religious ceremonies, and are taken care of before the event. Everything is provided for them, and everything they need is given to them. Even during the event, it appears their feet are not permitted to touch the ground and so the riders need to be carried either by horse or by human, otherwise they are permitted to stand on tatami mats or rocks.

Buy Tado Horse Festival photo


What happens:

The slope is rather steep, and has an added mound-obstacle at the top with a bamboo pole sticking out. At about midday the mound is ceremoniously broken making a small gap for horse and rider to attempt their climb over. The horse is raced down a long straight gaining momentum that should assist it to get up and over the mound. For each horse and rider, there is a dedicated team of mostly young (brave) men who stand in file either-side of the path to guide the horse to the break in the mound and help the horse and rider over. As you’re probably beginning to imagine, it is dangerous. Last year I saw a guy carried away on a stretcher with blood coming from his head. No blood this year, but there were several casualties taken away by ambulance. There was a dedicated doctor on site who did need to attend to a few people.

Buy Tado Horse Festival photo

The event today drew a crowd of approximately 100,000 people. The Tado Horse Festival often attracts crowds of about 80,000 to 90,000 people over the Tuesday and Wednesday of the Golden Week holiday at the start of May.



Animal rights groups do campaign against this event, as horses can get injured (and possibly later put down), and the horses are made drunk for this event. However, this event is far, far older than the notion of animal rights. The owners of the horses attend the event, and the horses are probably re-used and needed for the second day of the event. There are apparently other similar events in Japan which reportedly have as a compromise lowered the mound to make it easier and less risky for horses. Furthermore, why should animal rights groups call for the cancellation of a centuries all event? To demand an end to such a cultural event in any Asian country, by those influenced by Western values would seem a little culturally-imperialistic. Moral relativists would be saddened to see a cultural event cancelled to please a few people, but would rather let the Japanese decide for themselves what is appropriate for their culture. There are opposing views of this event, and they all have valid arguments, as you can see. So, what’s my position really? I cannot pass judgement.

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How to get there:

From Nagoya Station, take the Kintetsu Express train to Kuwana Station (about 30 minutes) with a ¥440 ticket. On the same platform you get off at, is a connection to the Yoro Tetsu train company. There will be a little table there selling tickets (specifiy “return”) for about ¥310. From that Kuwana platform to the Tado station, it will take about approximately 13 minutes. Just follow the crowd for a 10 to 15 minute walk up the gentle slope through the town and along the river. Ticket prices may be updated without notice. Check Hyperdia.Com for train times and prices.

Buy Tado Horse Festival photo


These images are available at both Asia Photo Connection (aka Henry Westheim), and my portfolio at PhotoShelter > Tado Horse Festival.

Cherry blossoms at Hase Temple

As mentioned in the the previous post, it’s Cherry blossom season. Cherry blossoms are known as ‘sakura’ in Japanese, and ‘hanami’ is to do ‘Cherry blossom viewing’. What I’ve been wanting to do for a long time was to visit a very historical temple and do my own hanami, there. Temples and shrines in Japan typically have lots of cherry blossom trees, which make some of them a tourist-magnet in cherry blossom viewing season.

Cherry blossoms blooming at Hase temple.

Cherry blossoms blooming at Hase temple.

I organised a friend (Paul), a car (Porte), and a sunny day (Tuesday). Unfortunately it took an hour longer to get to Hase town from my place, and so we missed the best of the early morning light. They say, “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out into the midday sun”, which is good because I’m an Englishmen, so I have licence. What remains in the photo collection at Asia Photo Connection are the pick of photos that can work with the midday sun.

A rare view inside of the Main Hall of Hase Temple during a service

A rare view inside of the Main Hall of Hase Temple during a service

Naked Man Festival

The Naked Man Festival (Hadaka Matsuri) is an annual even held at Kounomiya, just outside of Nagoya City in central Japan. It’s held in the depths of winter and is a weekend-long event. The part that the public sees (and is shown in my portfolios) is held in the afternoon. The event date varies from year to year, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, but is held during the lunar New Year.

It began over 1,200 years ago, in the year 767, when Nara was the capital of Japan. At that time, there were plagues affecting the Japanese people, so Emperor Shotoku ordered special prayers to be said nation wide. The governor of Owari Province (now Aichi Prefecture) asked the shrine at Kounomiya to do something about this, and to remove the bad luck. So, the Naked Man Festival, held in the coldest time in winter was formulated (first published by me at Winjeel.Com, Feb 2009).

See these portfolios:

PhotoShelter, Asian Photo Connection, and Gekko Images.

Naked Man Festival – Images by Andrew Blyth