Mitama Festival 2022 at Yasukuni shrine was a subdued affair. It lacked the energy and noise of previous years. That was understandable due to the ongoing pandemic. And it was a dull day. In the end, it was pretty underwhelming, but it was good to see the event back.
What is the Mitama Festival?
“Mitama” means “soul of a dead person”. As Yasukuni Shrine is dedicated to those who gave their lives to defend Japan, this festival is an early step towards the holiday season of Obon, when the Japanese honor their ancestors.
The Mitama is held annually from July 13 to 16. That can be problematic when those dates fall on a weekday. It began in 1947 and remains one of Tokyo’s biggest Obon celebrations. This festival is a fantastic summer event.
During the day, dancers and taiko drummers perform on a stage. But the best part is at night when the shrine comes alive with 30,000 yellow lanterns lining the main road of the shrine. Walk along its nearly 500-meter length when the lanterns are lit. The interplay between shadow and light is surreal.
Then teams carry mikoshi (portable shrines) through the dense crowds, chanting and cheering. A marching band performs a stirring rendition of the Japanese national anthem. And, at the height of the excitement, two spotlights form a criss-cross through the large torii gate at the shrine’s entrance. But that didn’t happen in 2022.
How was Mitama Festival 2022?
The event was very different from previous years. Yes, people walked around in yukatas, and the lanterns were bright. Worshippers crowded the shrine.
But this time, everything was very calm and sedate. There was no bouncing the mikoshi up and down on shoulders. The crowd wasn’t packed shoulder to shoulder under the torii. And there was no cheering or shouting.
The mikoshi was calmly carried to the shrine where it was presented, and the event was over. That was it. For the rest of the night, the crowd had to make do with stage performances and the lanterns.
Still, I enjoyed myself. There were lots of people walking in yukatas. And I grabbed a few pictures of the stage performances.
Under normal circumstances, the Mitama Festival is one of the best summer events in Tokyo. It was unfortunate that this was not the case in 2022. Hopefully, the pandemic will diminish over time, and things will return to normal in 2023. By the way, I have a whole article about Yasukuni Shrine you can read here.
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