つつじ tsutsuji is a Japanese word I learned two weeks ago. Tsutsuji means azalea. When I add the word まつり matsuri (festival) it becomes a funny tongue twister. Well, it does for me anyway. つつじまつり tsutsujimatsuri. I tried saying that fast a few times on the subway ride up to Nezu-jinja (Nezu shrine) to see the azaleas in bloom. tsutsujimatsuri, tsutsujimatsuri, tsutsujimatsuri.
Nezu shrine isn’t one of the well-known places in Tokyo and from what I understand, almost no one visits it except during the annual azalea festival. I had never been there before and had to look it up before heading out, but once I got out of the subway station it was very clear to me which way I needed to go. There were signs all along the street, but I simply followed the crowd over to the shrine.
The shrine was packed with visitors who’d all come to see the azaleas in their pink glory.
Everyone had their cameras, tablets, and mobile phones out taking photos of themselves and the flowers. Of course I did the same…
I walked under these series of vermilion colored torii gates that lined the courtyard of the shrine. They made me think of the large installation art piece called “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park in the winter of 2005. I wondered whether Christo and Jean-Claude, the artists took inspiration from these Japanese gates.
The festival goers prayed and made offerings for their wishes.
I made a small offering of my own, grateful for all the good fortune in my life. I pulled the thick rope to ring the bell to ask the spirits to hear my prayer.
It was so nice and tranquil by the temple that it surprised me to see all these vendors and tents in the lower part of the shrine grounds.
I guess it’s not truly a festival without food! There was yakitori, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, oden, ice cream, chocolate covered bananas, and more.
While you’re at the festival why not shop for some socks and undergarments, too?
Throw in a game of scooping out little goldfish and you have yourself a real festival.
And I thought it was just about these azaleas in bloom…
Nezu Shrine: １丁目-２８-９ Nezu, Bunkyo, Tokyo (map); tsutsujimatsuri at Nezujinja usually runs for about a month each year in April/May. This year (the 44th azalea festival) was held from April 6 to May 6.