3:10 on a Saturday
As the train doors opened, the platform bustle entered the car. Considering that the Tokyo bound, JR Line train had been absent of sound since the the last station, the voices were jarring. But the chatter was secondary to the barrage of unmistakable rhythm. Somewhere near, taiko drums were being hammered. I had to see it. Though I was exhausted from my family portrait shoot in Shibuya, I grabbed my gear and pushed against the human river flowing into the train.
It isn't hard to find Japanese festivals. A matsuri will be crowded with throngs of people. The drums will be beating and the smell of festival food wafts in the air. I didn't know what kind of festival it would be. But I knew there would be plenty to see.
Using my ears as guides, I exited the station and turned a few corners. And there it was, the Kichijoji Autumn Festival. In contrast to a western autumn festival, the Japanese don't have a million pumpkin-spice-whatevers for sale or antiquated images of American Indians sitting happily with small pox infested colonists, What the Japanese do have is a sense of belonging, cultivated by deep cultural traditions.
Like most autumn festivals around Japan, the cultural eye candy in Kichijoji were the mikoshi. A mikoshi is a palanquin used as a portable shrine. Shinto followers believe that the mikoshi is a vehicle to transport a deity here on earth. To move a deity between a temple's main shrine and a temporary one (i.e. during a festival), a mikoshi is used. Frequently resembling miniature buildings, the mikoshi are beautifully accented with ornate architectural features. Gold leafed pillars, stone roofs, etched wood siding... It's all there.
Yet, before resting a mikoshi on an uma (meaning horse in Japanese) those carrying the mikoshi jostle it wildly as to amuse the deity within. Lines of men and women dance and chant in unison, while the pole bearers shake the mikoshi and the deity (Mind you, if I were a god within one of these shrines, I would have no choice but to yak my yakitori everywhere).
An hour later, I had exhausted a memory card and had treated myself to a few highballs and street skewers. I had exchanged hugs, hive fives and bows galore all without seeing a single gourd. Rest assured that next autumn when I hear the taiko drum beating, I will get out of the train in into the streets of Tokyo.
Award winning photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Specializing in portrait photography, he shoots a variety of portraiture, editorial, event, and commercial photography assignments. Andy is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.