When it comes to festivals in Japan, I can never decide what the correct blogging procedure is: write about it before the festival so that others can go, too; or write about it after the festival so that you can include the latest photos. Both?
This time, though, I'm going to do a story before the event. Partly because it's so cute that you should really go, and partly because I probably won't have time – drat! – to go myself this year. These photos were taken last winter.
Every January, on the 24th and the 25th, Kameido Tenjin in Tokyo holds a ceremony called usokae shinji (うそ替え神事) or "uso exchange ritual": worshippers bring wooden carvings of bullfinches and exchange them for new ones, hoping to turn past bad luck into good luck. This belief is based on word play: the bird's name, uso, is written as うそ in Japanese; but uso, written as 嘘, can also mean lie or falsehood. Play with meanings, and you turn the bad luck into a lie, i.e. non-existence. While they're swopping uso, they chant "kaemashō, kaemashō" or "let's change, let's change".
Although the exchange itself is on 24 and 25 January, the shrine displays the wooden carvings until February, when it also has a plum blossom festival. Plum trees are associated with Sugawara no Michizane, who's enshrined at Kameido Tenjin, but all of that is another post for another day. (There's also an Honourable Dog that's covered in salt, because there used to be a booming salt trade in this area in the Edo period. See? Lots of stories to tell about this shrine!)
|Main shrine at Kameido Tenjin|
|One of the famous drum bridges|
|The temizuya, where you wash your hands, is in the shape of a turtle (kame in Japanese), which symbolizes longevity. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.|
|Sugawara no Michizane|