The city of Edo — first designed by Shogun Ieyasu — was limited to the east by the Sumida River. No bridge was allowed to span the river except Senju Ohashi at the river’s head in the far north. (See this column, June 3, 2005)
The ban was lifted after a big fire destroyed most of the city in 1657. From needs to reconstruct and expand the city beyond the river, four bridges were built. Then there was reclamation of the shallow sea and some of the city’s functions were moved there. The southern Fukagawa thus emerged close to the river’s estuary, linked to the city center by Eitai-bashi, built in 1696. With the advantage of trading in bulky commodities shipped from all over the country, Fukagawa prospered by leaps and bounds from brisk business in rice and lumber, the two “necessities” for life in the Edo Period.
Fukagawa lured pleasure seekers, too. Around Eitai-ji temple and Tomioka Hachiman-gu shrine, which had been founded in the mid-17th century, tea houses mushroomed, attracting local customers and visitors from the city. Offering all kinds of services — more than just a cup of tea — the original temporary establishments eventually became a large red-light district and competed in fame and prosperity with the Yoshiwara licensed quarters in Asakusa. Fukagawa’s unlicensed demimonde promoted women entertainers with unassuming, crisp demeanors, who were favored by sturdy men in risky long-distance shipping and strenuous labor works.
The accompanying wood-block print is the middle part of a six-page rendition depicting Tomioka Hachiman-gu in the 1830s. The south-oriented main hall in the center left continues to stand at the same location, though replaced by a concrete building after the original was destroyed in a bombing in World War II. The road running diagonally across the picture from the lower left to upper right is the current Eitai-dori, which has been increased three times in breadth since those old days. The street in the lower right, Nakacho-dori, was the main street of the red-light district, but today the former brothels are restaurants.
Throughout the ages, the shrine’s summer festival is basically the highlight in Fukagawa. First held in 1643 to celebrate the birth of the heir to the third shogun, Iemitsu , the annual festival boasted a fabulous float procession. Crowds of spectators came to see it, and in 1807 Eitai-bashi bridge collapsed under their weight.
Festivity and excitement run high today over a grand parade of mikoshi portable shrines. Fifty-four mikoshi gather, each shouldered by a team of more than 100 uniformed porters. Becoming like masses of steaming-hot fighters, they all jostle along on lanes and thoroughfares in the parish.
Awaiting them along the route are the locals, who have buckets and buckets of water ready to splash it over the mikoshi coming one after another. This unique practice is a ritual ablution to cleanse the carriage of divinities, which is what mikoshi is all about. Apart from that, porters dripping in sweat love it as the water cools them down, and paraders and spectators all have fun — just like kids splashing about in water.
Go see it, as this is the triennial year they do it! Do not forget to bring a towel as you, too, will perhaps get soaked from a few stray shots of water.
Tomioka Hachiman-gu is accessible by taking the Tozai or Toei Oedo subway line to Monzen Nakacho Station.
On Saturday, Aug. 13, the horen, the sacred vehicle of the spirits of the shrine’s deities, travels through the parish, accompanied by the priests and shrine maidens. And fireworks explode in the evening.
The mikoshi parade on Sunday, 14th leaves Tomioka Hachiman-gu at 7:30 a.m. and returns between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m.
But well before that the neighborhoods of Monzen Nakacho Station will be bustling with mikoshi porters and spectators awaiting the festivities. If you are late, or would rather avoid dense crowds, try the intersection on Kiyosubashi-dori near Kiyosumi Shirakawa Station (see this column, July 1, 2005), where the parade will pass around 9:30-11:00 a.m. Eitai-bashi is another good spot for the grand finale, which begins around noon. For more details on the course of parade and approximate time of its passage, log on to www.tomiokahachimangu.or.jp.
If visiting Fukagawa on an ordinary day, a stopover at Fukagawa Fudo temple near Exit 1 of Monzen Nakacho Station is well worth it. A branch of the great Narita Fudo in Chiba Prefecture, Fukagawa Fudo is housed in an Edo-period building moved from Chiba; it’s not large, but is impressively decorated with carvings and handsome beams. You may enter the main hall when it is not used for services.
The Fudo temple first started renting a corner of Eitai-ji, the original landlord of Fukagawa and of Tomioka Hachiman-gu in the feudal age, when Buddhism and Shinto began to mix it up in Japan. After the 1868 ordinance to separate the two religions, Eitai-ji suffered a rapid decline, while the Fudo temple flourished, riding on the patronage of Fudo temples by Kabuki actor Danjuro.
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