2018’s Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri

The Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri is held every year in June at the Namiyoke Inari Shrine, and has a long history. This year was a Hon Matsuri year, and Maction Planet was there! Enjoy the history of this festival, along with amazing photographs by Yayu Wang from Yayaland Studio, one of Tokyo’s top photographers and instructor on our Maction Planet Tokyo Photography Tours and Lessons

The Namiyoke Inari Shrine is believed to have been built during the Manji era (1658-1661). Tsukiji was mostly lowland marshes until the mid-1600’s when land reclamation work began across parts of the south-east of Edo, including the Hibiya inlet. However, at one spot, repeated storms, waves and high waters kept washing away the land as it was being reclaimed, making construction difficult. According to legend, the waves and winds subsided after locals floated the body of an Inari Myojin. To thank the gods for their help the locals built  the Namiyoke Inari Shrine, which still stands in the same spot between the outer and inner markets. The name means “protection against waves” (nami = ‘wave’, yoke = ‘protection’). To this day, people come to pray for safe voyages, business prosperity, good luck and safe construction of new buildings.

When construction of the land was completed in 1659, townspeople celebrated by carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) while parading through the streets. One symbolized a dragon who controls clouds and another a tiger who controls the wind. They were accompanied by the huge head of shishi lion whose roar caused the whole world to obey him. Over time, the festival evolved to involve many such lion heads paraded through the streets. Many have been lost to natural disaster and the American Firebombing during World War II, but thankfully two have survived. They were made in 1848 and are now cultural properties of Chuo-ku, the ward of Tokyo where the shrine is located. These are a 700 kg black-toothed lioness, known as the Benzaiten Ohaguro Jiishi (Benzaiten Black Tooth Lion) and a 1 ton male, the Yakuyoke Tenjo Ojishi (Great Heavenly Lion).

Why does the lioness have black teeth? Ohaguro (お歯黒 – teeth blackening) was a common practice up until the Meiji period and seen as beautiful, as exemplified by the stunning lioness!

The festival takes place in its most spectacular form only once every three years, and 2018  was one of those years! In this Hon matsuri, the shrine’s Sengangu Mikoshi and both the male and female lions make an appearance. Only women are allowed carry the lioness, while only men can carry the lion. The shrine’s main mikoshi is carried by both men and women.

This year’s festival was a bittersweet one. This October, Tsukiji’s inner market will relocate to a new facility in Toyosu, about 2km away. Built in 1935, the inner market will be separated from the outer market, which will remain at Tsukiji. Due to this, after almost a century, this year the organisers brought back an event called funatogyo. This involved placing a mikoshi on a barge accompanied by Shinto priests and local tradespeople in the nearby Sumida River to pray for the safety of fishermen at sea.

Yayu Wang has captured the highlights of this festival with some incredible images, and we are honoured to be able to share them so you too can enjoy what our guests on their Maction Planet Tokyo Private Tour experienced and be in the thick of this historic running for the Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri. 

You can follow Yayu Wang and Yayaland Studio on FacebookInstagramFlickr and on her website.

Maction Planet can take you behind-the-scenes at events such as the Tsukiji Shishi Matsuri. Don’t just watch the action – become a part of local life in Tokyo. Whatever your interests are, contact us to begin your journey to your perfect, personalised time in The World’s Greatest Metropolis. info@mactionplanet.com

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