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What's this? Fukagawa Hachiman Festival photos by Philbert Ono. Held in mid-August in Koto Ward, Tokyo, this is the festival's full-scale version held once every three years (1996, 1999, 2002, etc.).

About the Festival

The Fukagawa Hachiman Festival is held annually in mid-August by the Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine in Koto Ward, Tokyo. Every three years (1996, 1999, 2002, etc.), the full-scale version (called Hon-matsuri) of the festival is held during five days. It is one of Tokyo's Big Three festivals. (The other two being the Kanda Festival and Sanno Festival.) It attracts over half a million spectators and over 30,000 people participate in the festival.

The festival consists of a series of Shinto ceremonies, music and dance performances, and parades. The festival climaxes on the last day with the all-day parading of 54 portable shrines called mikoshi. The portable shrines carry a part of the main shrine's deity or kami. It is believed that jostling a portable shrine around the neighborhood will bring happiness to the local residents.

One distinctive feature of this festival is that bystanders are allowed to splash water on the people carrying the portable shrines. It is thus nicknamed the "mizu-kake matsuri" or water-throwing festival. Besides being symbolic of purification, the water splashing also helps to cool people off during the hot summer day. You will hear the mikoshi bearers shout "wasshoi! wasshoi!" as they carry the portable shrines and get drenched.

The festival has a long history since the 17th century. In August 1807, the festival's most tragic accident occurred when there were so many festival goers on the wooden Eitai-bashi Bridge near the shrine that it collapsed, killing over 730 people. After this, the government banned the festival for a while. Of course, Eitai-bashi Bridge is now a strong, steel structure (built in 1928) so there's no worry for collapse.

During August 14-18, 1996, I photographed almost all the ceremonies and events held during the festival. I live in Koto Ward where the shrine is located, so it is a major event in our neighborhood. All the color photos were taken in 1996, and the B/W photos were taken in 1993. The full-scale version of the festival will be held again in Aug. 2002, and I plan to add photos from that one as well.

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Last modified: 2004-05-15