Thursday, December 1, 2011

Inage Lights Festival 2011

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This magnificent main hall of Inage Sengen Jinja was build in the year 808, more than 1,200 years ago.

Inage Sengen Jinja is a beautiful Shinto shrine which sits on top of a hill near the place I am currently living. This shrine centered around the worship of the kami of volcanoes in general, and Mount Fuji in particular. There are two main annual festivals held around this historical shrine and also the old town of Inage - Inage Sengen Jinja Festival in summer and also Inage Akari Matsuri or literally, Inage Lights Festival that is usually held at the end of the year.

Another festival that is often celebrated together with the Inage Lights Festival is the Sichi-Go-San, literally reads "Seven-Five-Three", a traditional rite of passage and festival day in Japan for three and seven-year-old girls and three and five-year-old boys, held annually on November 15. As Shichi-Go-San is not a national holiday, it is generally observed on the nearest weekend.

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The slope that leads up to the main shrine hall.

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Oomiya Jinja (大宮神社), a kami which is worshiped for safety while at the sea.

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Inari Daimyo-jin (稲荷大明神), worshiped for fertility, rice, agriculture, industry and worldly success.

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A huge Hello Kitty mascot to greet the kids who went to the shrine for worshiping.

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Three-year-old girls usually wear hifu, a type of padded vest, with their kimono.

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Western-style formal wear is also worn by some children, like these two siblings.

During the olden days, the kids were required by custom to have their heads shaved up until the age of three. Once they reached three years old, they were allowed to grow out their hair; boys of age five could wear hakama for the first time, while girls of age seven replaced the simple cords they used to tie their kimono with the traditional obi.

However, by the Meiji period, a more modern ritual of visits to shrines to drive out evil spirits and wish for a long healthy life became a practice. Besides that, parents will bring their camera along to have photos of their children taken at the shrines.

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Preparations for the celebration of Inage Lights Festival started weeks before the big day.

However, the main talking point of this entry is the Inage Lights Festival (稲毛あかり祭). This festival is mainly held along the Inage Sengen-dori street (稲毛浅間通り), which lies in between the JR Inage station and Inage Sengen Shrine (稲毛浅間神社). This shopping street has existed since 1963, making it the oldest shopping street in Chiba.

It used to be a thriving street, located just by the sea that was always full with people who came for beach activities and shellfish gathering, before the shallow coastal area was turned into a reclaimed land. Ever since then, it became just another street in the town where the number of vehicles increases by the year and the sight of people walking along this street became a rare sight.

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Lanterns places on the open field at Inage Park (稲毛公園) or Lights Field.

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These lanterns were individually made by the kids from the local schools.

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A boy, trying to locate his masterpiece among hundreds of lanterns.

That is when the "Inage Akari Project" was launched, in hope that the locals will be more concerned about their beloved town, and for people outside to learn more about this beautiful town, particularly this street, which was voted in 2009 as one of the top shopping street in Japan, which is trying to relieve its past glory (全国新・がんばる商店街77選).

I believe the project has achieved its objective, as I wouldn't have known the history of this street if not for this festival.

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The lanterns are placed along several main spots including the Keisei Inage station, Inage Sengen-dori street and Inage Sengen shrine. 
This is the little road I pass through everyday I go to school.

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Bell performance from the Iki-iki Fureai Kyoshitsu (いきいきふれあい教室) group, which consists of the golden generation.

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Board games for the younger ones. Notice the "too-bad" prize (ざんねん賞) on the left haha!

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By five in the evening, the staffs started to light the lanterns.

Inage Lights Festival was started in the year 2006, using the background motif of a famous fishing game known as "Yotoboshi fishing" (夜灯漁) during the new moon, to reproduce the scene of the lanterns from the sea along the streets in the town, and to further nurture the relationship of the people living in this community.

This annual festival is held for two nights, namely Zenyasai (前夜祭) or "festival eve", and Honmatsuri (本祭り) or the "main festival" over the weekends.

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Every time there is a festival or matsuri in Japan, the food stalls will always be one of the main attraction.

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Local delicacies like yakisoba, takoyaki, taiyaki and yakitori can be found here.

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The mascot of the festival, Yotoboshi-ane-san (夜灯姉さん).

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Free postcards for visitors to the festival.

More than 5,000 paper lanterns, each individually made from drawings of the local elementary school students, are used to decorate the town. The high school students and the local communities on the other hand, worked together to carve the bamboo lanterns. Everyone from various groups and organisations, including the local community living in this town, the university students, girls scouts offer their hands from the preparation stage up until the big day, working together to make this festival as success.

It was indeed a great team work which indirectly enhances the relationship of the people in this little town.

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Beautiful illuminating bamboos become visible as it gets dark.

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Yotoboshi-ane-san finally made her long-awaited appearance!

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A musical team performing some ethnic songs.

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Not very sure which country this musical instrument came from, but I am guessing it must have come from some African country.

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A familiar banner of the festival, at the top of the tower made of bamboo.

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A breathtaking sight of lights from the lanterns and bamboos on a winter night.

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A new message was spotted among the carvings on the bamboo, which are wishes and prayers for the recovery of the area that suffered the triple disaster in March.

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Kai Cung and me. Not often to see us taking photos together haha!

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The nostalgic shopping street of Inage Sengen-dori, which is beautifully decorated with lanterns.

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Each lantern was individually drawn which makes it unique from the others.

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Back to the Inage Park, it was like a sea of lanterns. The magnificent sight really can blow you away.

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More than 1,000 lanterns are places on the ground, surrounded by pine trees at this park.

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Dropped by Yukari-no ke (ゆかりの家), which used to be the house of Aisin-Gioro Pǔjié (愛新覚羅溥傑), the younger brother of the last Emperor of China, Puyi 
right after he got married with Lady Hiro Saga, a relative of the Japanese Imperial family.

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Some old documents and photos are put on display in this house.

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This is how close the sea used to be from Inage Sengen shrine. Today, this area has turned into an expressway.

The festival ended at around eight. Although it rained heavily halfway through the festival on both nights, it didn't hamper the spirit of the people at all. I guess it only made everyone more determine to make the festival as wonderful as possible for everyone, especially the visitors to this town. It was indeed an unique festival which I enjoyed it very much.

I leave you with a photo taken with the mascot of this festival.

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Rain or shine, you will always spot a smile on Yotoboshi-ane-san's face.

Thank you for reading.

2 comments:

Tempus said...

The lanterns looked like Kong Ming lanterns! And the "zan-nen" prizes, seriously??!!

calvin said...

@ tempus:
yes, vut too bad like ostrich, the japanese lanterns can't fly haha!

yup, zan-nen prizes if you don't win the game lol!