Torii gates at Hanazono Shrine Photo: Alpha from Melbourne, Australia, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Tokyo’s Kabukicho district isn’t just about the nightlife – it has traditional festivals too

By George Lloyd, grape Japan

Kabukicho 歌舞伎町 may be known for its adult-oriented nightlife, but September is festival season in the district. The festivals started out as a way to give thanks to the gods for good harvests, and later, to pray for business prosperity. This year, the novel coronavirus pandemic has put paid to the revelry, but it's good to know about these festivals for when life gets back to normal next year (fingers crossed).

There are three shrines in Kabukicho: Inari Kio Shrine 稲荷鬼王神社, which is in 2-chōme; Hanazono Shrine 花園神社, which is next to Golden Gai ゴールデン街 on the east side of Kabukicho; and Shinjuku Juniso Kumano Shrine 新宿十二社熊野神社, which is in Kabukicho 1-chome, on the west side of the Yamanote line tracks.

Lanterns at the Tori no Ichi (Cock Fair) at Hanazono shrine. Photo: 掬茶, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As the name suggests, Inari Kio Shrine is for the worship of Inari 稲荷, the guardian god associated with foxes, and Kio 鬼王, the demon king. It is famous for being the only shrine in Japan where good fortune is conferred via a demon. The shrine has a festival in September. It is a good opportunity to see its mikoshi 神輿 (portable shrine), which is unusual for having the faces of two demons carved into it.

The second shrine in Kabukicho is Shinjuku Jūniso Kumano Shrine 新宿十二社熊野神社. It too has a festival in the autumn, which is well known for an unusual dance called chidori katsugi 千鳥担ぎ. Chidori 千鳥 is a plover, a kind of seabird, and chidori ashi 千鳥足 is usually used to describe a drunken stagger. But in the festival, chidori katsugi refers to quickly stamping and sliding the feet forward in a kind of shuffle.

Instead of carrying the mikoshi on their shoulders, the bearers take the weight of the portable shrine on the back of their necks, splaying their hips and tensing up their knees. To see the mikoshi bearers carrying the portable shrine while doing the chidori katsugi is a remarkable sight.

Shinjuku Juniso Kumano Shrine in Shinjuku with skyscrapers behind. Photo: Kakidai, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Common

Kabukicho's third shrine is Hanazono Shrine, which dates back to the Edo period when the neighborhood was part of Naito Shinjuku. The shrine has a festival called Tori no Ichi 酉の市, which marks the coming of winter. Local business owners come to buy decorative rakes, which they use to 'rake in' good luck for the year to come. Hanazono Shrine also hosts a festival at the end of May.

The biggest festival in Kabukicho is probably the Shinjuku Eisa festival 新宿エイサーまつり, which is far more recent than the others. It was first held in Kabukicho in 2002 and is held every year on the last Saturday of July, with events on Shinjuku-dori between Studio Alta and the Marui Annex during the day, and more events around Toho Building Plaza in the evening. An Eisa is a traditional Okinawan event held in mid-summer when the blood of the crowd gets hot, and everyone gives bold cries designed to shake the soul. It's a big celebration of Okinawan culture in the heart of Tokyo, and not to be missed.

Inari Kiō Shrine is at 2-17-5 Kabukicho (Google Maps)

Hanazono Shrine is at 5-17-3 Shinjuku (Google Maps)

Shinjuku Juniso Kumano Shrine is at 2-11-2 West Shinjuku (Google Maps)

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© grape Japan

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Informative article. But as the address indicates, Kumano Shrine is not in Kabukicho, but over in West Shinjuku. I'm not trying to be picky.

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I took the same photo at Hanazono Shrine as the lead pic in 2018. It's an unexpected delight, tucked behind buildings and used by the locals. It's always worth checking out the shrines, large or small, old or modern, whenever you go anywhere in Japan. Most have some sort of distinctive feature. Hanazono is also an Inari shrine, with statues of foxes. It was a hot day and the shrine had welcome shade, as well as some glorious sakura.

Shinjuku does unexpected rather well - Shinjuku Gyoen with its Greenhouse and Kyu-Goryo-Tei (Taiwan Pavilion) also offer respite in such a busy area. It is a remarkably large park with a relaxed atmosphere. The Central Rest House is a good place for refreshments, allowing you to rest and relax.

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Correction. I think Hanazono must have ume blossom, given the time of year.

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Shinjuku Juniso Kumano Shrine 新宿十二社熊野神社 is in Chuo Park near Tocho!

That is nowhere near Kabukicho!

Hanazono Shrine might have a smaller shrine inside like Kumano Jinja, but the one in the photo is in West Shinjuku.

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 "新宿十二社熊野神社, which is in Kabukicho 1-chome, on the west side of the Yamanote line tracks".

There is no Kabukicho 1-chome on the west side of the Yamanote line tracks. It is only east of the Yamanote line tracks. The address shown is 西新宿, West Shinjuku, which is not Kabukicho.

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Can I add that one thing that visitors to Hanazono Shrine are always surprised about is that there is a small shrine with a rather large statue of a phallus (wood carving).

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Tokyo’s Kabukicho district isn’t just about the nightlife – it has traditional festivals too

That's like saying Adult porn magazines also have great articles.

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