Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Crossing Paths with Omikoshi (Tokyo)

This week’s post continues the chaos theme by recounting the day I kept crossing paths with an Omikoshi.

 It happened one Sunday when I visited the Nihombashi district in search of old Edo style buildings.  As is so often the case the primary objective was trumped by something more interesting.  Crossing the bridge over the river I noticed a crowd outside the Mitsukoshi department store and crowds must, of course, be investigated.  Drawing closer I could see that the focus of activity was an object I later learned to be a mikoshi, for which omiskoshi is the honorific form.

 Anyone who has experienced or seen images of Japanese matsuri (festivals) will be familiar with mikoshi.  A brief description is that they are portable Shinto shrines used to transport deities between (say) a main and temporary shrine.  They typically resemble a miniature shrine building and are often crowned with a phoenix bird statuette.  I don’t know what they weigh, but they are substantial objects and are mounted on rails to be carried by their followers.

What impressed me most was the sense of community and the happy nature of those preparing to transport the mikoshi through the streets of Nihombashi.  One often hears that Japanese people are reserved … well this was not the case on this particular Sunday in Nihombashi and everyone I approached welcomed me.  Perhaps it helped that I was the only foreigner around.

 The photographs are shown in sequence and I hope they communicate the energy of the occasion, which builds as the procession moves.  Allow me to draw attention to a few shots.  The first person I noticed through the crowd was the gentleman in “Standing Guard” (pic 3).  He did not move from his post until the procession started and he looked as if he was indeed guarding his mikoshi.  Participation is an equal opportunity as shown by “Women Power” (pic 6) and “Next Generation” (pic 10), where women and children share the load with men of all ages.  It was very much a family event and one can imagine the children in these photos being accompanied by their children in years to come.

 My favourite shot is “Success” (pic 9), where the men at the front, who had carried the mikoshi from the start showed their joy at reaching the rest stop.  Unfortunately, I must apologise for this and other shots being somewhat blurred – the result of my having been drawn into the scrum and being jostled while trying to walk backwards.  However, I’m happy to trade some blur for the experience.

 There must have been well over a hundred people involved, with fresh people taking over from others in a spirit of seamless cooperation and teamwork.  Except of course for the men at the front – they were staying the journey.  Throughout the journey the followers chant “wasshoi” over and over in a rather hypnotic rhythm and indeed, it did seem for some people to be somewhat of a spiritual experience.  By the way, I believe “wasshoi” means to share a physical load.

 From time to time I tried to resume my search for the Edo style buildings, but kept crossing paths with this and other mikoshi.  Even when I decided it was time for a refreshment break I still couldn’t escape.  Sitting at Starbucks window I had a great view of the mikoshi continuing its journey (pic 15) – they made me feel soft and lazy.

 I didn’t find the Edo style buildings, but I think the photos show the day worked out pretty well.

 (Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


Chaotic Calm at Shibuya Crossing (Tokyo)

Chaotic calm!  Yes, I know it sounds like a contradiction of terms.  Nevertheless, it is how I see Tokyo’s famous Shibuya Crossing.

Shibuya Crossing may very well be Tokyo’s most recognisable place given its inclusion in travel documentaries, photographs and movies such as “Lost in Translation”.  The popular vision of the crossing, where five roads intersect, is of crowds of people crossing in all directions.  All the lights change at once and when the lights change to green it is like observing an old-fashioned infantry charge.  However, rather than clash, the scene becomes one of chaotic calm.  Pedestrians and cyclists plot their course from one side to the other, artfully avoiding each other in a demonstration of humans’ innate ability to move through crowded areas with a minimum of contact.  Watching this human choreography unfold from a vantage point such as the Starbucks (pic 14) overlooking the intersection is wondrous and entertaining.

For those who like statistics, the adjoining Shibuya Station is the third busiest in the Tokyo metropolis, thus ensuring the constant supply of people crossing.  At peak hour it is estimated that approximately 2500 cross at each cycle.

The action is round-the-clock given Shibuya’s popularity as an entertainment and shopping precinct, hence any visit to Tokyo should include at least one walk across this famous crossing.

In this post I have included a few of the traditional wide shots, but have mostly tried to show a sample of the individuals one encounters.  Where have they come from?  Where are they going?  Who are they meeting?  Simple questions underscoring that each person in the frame is an individual story coming randomly together at a point in time.  A random collection that will never again be repeated.

My first photo shows Hachiko’s statue – a famous Shibuya landmark and a popular meeting point.  In brief, the statue commemorates the loyalty of a faithful dog to its owner, very similar to Edinburgh’s Greyfriar’s Bobby.  Each morning, Hachiko would walk his owner (a college professor) to Shibuya Station and return each evening to greet his owner’s return.  One day his owner did not return, which became the start of Hachiko’s long vigil of faithfully waiting for the impossible.  Local traders and family members cared for him as best they could, but eventually he succumbed to age and the elements.  This bittersweet story has been captured in the movie “Hachiko – A Dog’s Story” starring Richard Gere.  Well worth a look!

The remaining photos are a small sample of whom you might see during a visit to Shibuya Crossing.  If you see yourself in any of the pics, please let me know and I hope I caught you from a good angle haha.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)