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Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

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Annual Events at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine

January 1 to 3 New Year Ceremony
As one of the most famous shrines in greater Tokyo, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu draws nearly two million people during the first three days of New Year. Can you imagine what it would be like for a 170,000 population town to have one million people on just one day on January first? On the New Year's Eve, JR trains including the Yokosuka Line run all night for them. At the Shrine, as soon as the clock tells 12 midnight, worshipers rush to the altar to make the first prayer of the year. I once visited the Shrine on the afternoon of the third day of January several years ago. Streets leading to the Shrine were packed with people, shoulder-to-shoulder, immediately after I got out the station exit, and it took me almost one full-hour to get to the oratory. Many worshipers buy arrow-like Hamaya {hah-mah-yah}, a good-luck amulet made of bamboo and feather, wishing to get rid of bad luck during the new year. Roughly 300,000 Hamaya are reportedly sold during those days. Since they are hand-made, the Shrine starts to produce them for the following year right after the New Year days, and yet demand always outpaces supply.
January 4 Chona Hajime {cho-nah hah-gee-meh} or Ritual for Adz
Chona means an adz and hajime "first use of the year". In commemoration of the ritual Yoritomo performed at the time he constructed the Shrine, the ceremony takes place near the Ritual Dance Stage on this day at 1:00 p.m. with Shrine priests in traditional garb, hitting a sawn square log with an adz. The log, called "sacred wood", is hauled from the Second Torii Gate on Dankazura to the Shrine precinct. The ritual is sponsored by construction workers, mostly carpenters, and is to pray for the safe work during the new year.
January 5 Joma Shinji {joe-mah shin-gee} or Exorcising Evil Spirits
Joma means "averting evils" and shinji Shinto ritual. Archers from Kamakura Archery Club shoot arrows at a 165-centimeter-diameter target placed 40 meters apart, on which the letter oni or devil is written. Six archers in two groups shoot the target one by one wearing ancient costumes and headgear. By shooting the target they wish the evil be exorcised. The archery begins at 10 a.m. at the west side of the Ritual Dance Stage.
January 1 to 7 Gohan gyoji {go-han gyo-gee}
During the first seven days of New Year, worshipers can have a sacred seal stamped on their forehead from Shinto priests at the east side of the oratory of the Main Hall, just like Roman Catholics have priests out ashes on their forehead on Ash Wednesday. The seal is called Goho ho-in {go-hoh ho-in} and usually kept deep inside the sanctum as a sacred object. As a matter of fact, the holy seal, a sword and a mirror are three sacred treasures that embody the legitimacy of Hachimangu. Only during the first seven days of New Year, it is brought out by priests wearing purified Shinto garbs, and stamp it to the worshipers. It is believed those who got stamped can get divine favor for warding off devils and accomplishing learning (though they know there is no royal road to learning.)
January 15 Sagicho {sah-ghe-cho} or Ritual Burning of Old Charms and Amulets
Sacred straws and bamboo-festoons used for decoration during the New Year days, old charms and amulets for the previous year enshrined at household altars, are burned with Shinto purification rites to chase away the past evils and start with new ones. Religious people cannot throw away these old sacred objects like garbage. The Shrine takes care and dispose of (burn) them in accordance with the holy manner. The ritual takes place at the north side of the Genji pond from 7:00 a.m.
February 3 Setsubun {seh-tsu-boon} or Bean-Scattering Ceremony
The last day of winter on calendar. The ceremony is held to drive out bad luck and bring in good one. Kamakura residents whose Oriental zodiac of birth year matches that of the new year are invited to throw lucky beans from the Ritual Dance Stage wearing ancient costumes.
First Horse Day of February Inari {e-nah-re} Shrine Festival
In Fushimi {foo-she-me} Inari in Kyoto, the headquarters of all Japan's Inari shrines, it is believed the deity came down to the site where the shrine stands today on the first Horse Day of lunar calendar in the year of 711. Following this legend, all Inari shrines including Maruyama hold the annual festival on this day. The ritual starts at 1.00 p.m. Since it is based on lunar calendar, the festival date varies over 12 days depending on year.
April 3 Annual Festival at Wakamiya sub-shrine
This sub-shrine has four old portable-shrines, all enrolled in the list of ICAs by Prefectural Government. After the ceremony (ritual dances are performed by the Shrine maidens at the hall), those portable shrines parade through the street of Kamakura.
First Serpent Day of April Annual festival at Hataage Benzaiten
In front of this sub-shrine, maidens perform ritual dance wearing white and red robes.
From the second Sunday through the third Sunday of April Kamakura Festival
Various festivities hosted by Kamakura Tourist Association are observed. Highlight is the parade from near the First Torii Gate up Wakamiya-oji to the Shrine with several hundred participants dressed in ancient clothes, representing the historic celebrities like Yoritomo, Yoshitsune, Lady Shizuka etc.
Others included among the many attractions are: Japanese classic dance at the Ritual Dance Stage, outdoor tea ceremonies, Yabusame or horseback archery (third Sunday) and so on. Samurai warriors were primarily mounted archers and in peacetime, they practiced their skills with hunting and target-shooting, which later became one of the martial arts. The Yabusame takes place at the road crossing the Shrine precinct from east to west between the Third Torii and the Ritual Dance Stage. Archers draw their arrows and shoot at the targets placed 3 to 4 meters away from the lane, while riding horses full speed on the narrow path. The path is 250 meters long and there are 3 targets, each 55-centimeter-square board. Twenty archers run the path one after another and every time the arrow hit the target, 5,000-odd spectators give them applause. The archers are attired in colorful hunter's tunic, unique headgear. In ancient days, people predicted crop of the year through the achievement of this archery. According to the Shrine's ancient records, five archers joined Yabusame every year and no one missed the target, each getting a perfect score. Today, it is getting internationally popular. On May 19 and 20, 2001, it was showed in Hyde Park, London in the "Japan 2001" event. Prince Charles and Prince Hiro of Japan watched the show.
May 5 Shobu {sho-boo} Matsuri or Iris Festival
Used to be Boys' Day before the Second World War, but now this is the day for all children and on the list of national holidays. In Tsurugaoka Hachimangu, Iris Festival with court music and dances is held at the Ritual Dance Stage from 1:00 p.m. Kindergarteners in the Shrine (The kindergarten is run by the Shrine and located at the north side of the Genji Pond) perform their show inviting the elderly.
May 28 Annual Festival at Shirahata sub-shrine
June 7 Annual Festival for Imamiya sub-shrine
Though not accessible for occasional visitors, there is another sub-shrine behind the Main Hall called Imamiya {e-mah-me-yah}, which was built in 1247 to dedicate to three emperors who were exiled to prison islands during the Kamakura Period on charge of attempted coup d'etat. The exiled emperors were Gotoba {go-toh-bah} (1180-1239) and his sons Tsuchimikado {tsu-che-me-kah-doh} (1195-1231) and Juntoku {june-tok} (1197-1242). Emperor Gotoba was famous for his love of art including 31-syllable tanka poet. He also loved chrysanthemum and its 16-petal design logo became the imperial family's crest. Commemorating the day of foundation of the original shrine, the annual festival is held on this day.
June 30 O-harae {oh-hah-rah-a} or Semi-annual Purification Ceremony
A ritual for atonement starts at 5:00 p.m. near the Genji Pond. Writing his or her own name on a sheet of paper cut in doll shape, worshipers let them float in the waters. This is to expiate themselves from the sins they committed during the prior six months. After the ritual, old amulet-burning ceremony takes place.
Early August Nagoshi {nah-go-she} Festival
The last day of calendar summer. Literally, it is a "summer-passover" day, and at the same time, marks start of the second half of the year in lunar calendar. Chinowa Kuguri {chee-no-wah koo-goo-re} (passing the ring of reed) is performed. A large reed ring, about 2.5 meters in diameter, is placed vertically before the Ritual Dance Stage, and as a ritual, Shrine's priests first pass this ring making like the number 8, and then worshipers follow them. This is to pray for a bumper crop of the year as well as worshipers' health for the rest of the year.
Bonbori {bon-bo-re} or paper lamp-stand festival
Unlike the other time-honored rituals, this one started in 1938. On the eve of first autumn day on calendar, paper lampstands, roughly 400 in all, are placed on both side of the main path between the Drum Bridge and the Ritual Dance Stage, and the Yabusame lane, about 5 meters apart each, on which short poems, paintings or brush writings are drawn, some of them are contributions by famous writers and painters living in Kamakura. Looking at them one by one is enjoyable. This festival continues for three days and the lampstands, which are beautiful at night, are kept standing for nine days.
August 9 Sanetomo Festival at Shirahata sub-shrine
In commemoration of the Third Shogun's birthday, the ceremony is held at this sub-shrine starting 10:00 a.m. After a ritual or two, they throw a party where tanka poets made by locals are introduced. The festival started in 1942.
September 14-16 Grand Festival
A wide array of festivities are held during the three days, including portable shrine parade, dancing, tea ceremony, archery, Judo exhibition match and flower arrangements. Yabusame horseback archery on September 16 at 1:00 p.m.
October 17 Kan'name {kan-nah-meh} Festival
Used to be a national holiday before World War II as the day emperor offers the first ears of rice to the Shinto deity enshrined in Ise {e-seh} Grand Shrine in Mie Prefecture. Though the day is no longer a national holiday, the imperial family honors the festival and perform the rite. Tsurugaoka Hachimangu also follows suit.
October 20 Chikyu {chee-kyu} Festival or Empress' Birthday
Since the Shrine is dedicated to Emperor Ojin and shares the same Shinto religion with the imperial family, it celebrates empress' birthday. Empress Michiko {me-che-ko} was born on October 20, 1934. She is a daughter of the chief executive of a flour company and a graduate of a Roman Catholic college for women in Tokyo. Breaking a 2,600-year-old tradition, Emperor Akihito {ah-key-he-toh} married her, a commoner, in 1959.
October 28 Bunboku {boon-bok} Festival at Shirahata sub-shrine
To commemorate the day when Sanetomo, the Third Shogun, was given a high-ranking official title form the Imperial Court in 1218, writers and painters in Kamakura get together and celebrate the day presenting their poems and paintings to the shrine. Bunboku means writing and painting.
November 8 Hitaki {he-tah-key} Festival at Maruyama Inari sub-shrine
Hitaki means "making a fire". Kamakura kagura or Shinto dance accompanied by Shinto music is performed near the burning woods before this sub-shrine at 2:00 p.m. The rite is to thank god for the harvest of the year and pray for a bumper crop the next year.
November 15 Shichi-go-san {she-che-go-san} (seven-five-three) Festival
Girls at the age of three, boys at five, and boys and girls of seven years old visit shrines on this day to pray for good health and good luck. A number of children and their parents finely dressed, some wearing kimono, will be observed in the precinct of the Shrine. Nowadays, parents do not always stick to November 15. They bring their children on weekends immediately before or after November 15 in case it does not fall on weekends.
November 23 Niinamesai {nee-nah-meh-sigh} or Harvest Festival
It was formerly the thanksgiving day celebrated by the imperial family. Shinto shrines used to give thanks to gods for the crop of the year. Today, it remains a national holiday but as a labor-thanksgiving day. The Shrine honors and performs the traditional ritual on this day.
December 16 Gochinza {go-chin-zah} or Anniversary of Foundation
Gochinza means"inauguration of the Shrine". Officially, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine was established at the present site on December 16, 1191. After the sunset at 5:30 p.m., firewood are lighted in the Shrine's grounds and a foursome Shrine maidens begin a ritual dance followed by priests' dance wearing white robes. Sonokoma {so-no-ko-mah}, a ceremonial court music and dance for the imperial family, is also played.
December 23 Emperor's Birthday, a National Holiday
The Shrine celebrates the birthday and rituals to pray for emperor's good health is performed. Emperor Akihito was born on December 23, 1933.
December 31 Semi-annual Purification Ceremony or O-harae.
Purification rituals same as the one on June 30 is performed at 3:00 p.m. near the Genji Pond. Unlike Buddhist temples, the Shrines do not have a bell, and therefore, no sound of bell-ringing is heard. However, as soon as the new year start at 12 midnight, the ceremony begins and many worshipers rush to the oratory to make the first worship of the year.

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