Tokyo in Pics


A photography blog about Tokyo, run by Australian photographer Rohan Gillett

Mitama Festival - 2018

The summer of 2018 is a hot one.  Really hot. Shooting outside in such heat can be an endurance event at times, but along with the heat comes all the good summer Tokyo events to photograph.    And one of those great events is the Mitama festival at Yasukuni shrine. So before heading out to shoot under the hot night sky, I had a long cold shower. Then I quickly scooted out the door with all my gear together and headed off.

Almost at the main gate, in afternoon and not many people around

Inside, the sun is starting to go down and its getting more crowded

While waiting, there was some entertainment to keep people occupied

If you don’t know anything about the festival, it is held in honour of those who died defending Japan.  I know, for many people that the shrine is quite controversial, but I think any country is entitled to celebrate those who died defending it and the festival isn’t confined to World War II anyway, it also includes those who fell in conflicts during the Meiji and Taisho periods as well.

The sun is down, the lights are on and the people appear

For any first-timer to the the festival it’s a pretty awesome sight walking through the entrance.  There are something like 30,000 lanterns stacked as ten high, on both side of the runway that leads from the first torii (gate at a shinto shrine) right up to the main entrance.  Then there are many smaller lanterns inside the courtyard and inner shrine area.  All of the lanterns have the names of donors on them, companies and private people.

Who donated for a lantern has their name and prefecture displayed for everyone to see

After sundown the switch is thrown and lanterns light up and the omikoshi (portable shrine) are brought out.  These things, which are common at shrines throughout Japan, can weight up to 1000 kg, depending on size of course.  Both men and women carry them up the runway and into the inner shrine area, bouncing them up and down on their shoulders and occasionally spinning them around, all the while surrounded by a crowd that cheers them.  Of course, everyone wants to get pictures of the event so at times the area looks like a sea of mobile phones.

A wall of lanterns upon the runway

Unfortunately, for me, I had a couple of problems on the night.  One was that I had work the next day which limited my time there.  I just hate going to work tired, as can easily happen shooting in the heat.  And the other problem, maybe you spotted it? Before going I had actually forgotten to change lenses.  Usually for night events I use my Fujifilm 16-55mm f/2.8, but recently I had bought the 10-24mm f/4 which I had been using for every shoot over the last two weeks.  As it is f/4, it definitely doesn't have very good low-light capabilities.  This led me to use very high ISO and caused me to get some pictures I wasn’t entirely happy with.

I can’t believe I made such a mistake, but there is no use crying over spilt milk as they say.  Some of the pictures are okay, but many weren't.  Hopefully I won’t make a mistake like that again. Anyway, my work schedule for the rest of the summer looks very busy so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend the fireworks or Awa Odori events in the city which will be a real shame.

On my way home ...

The Mitama Festival is over now, but it will return in July 2020.  If you want to learn more about Yasukuni shrine, you can visit its website here and you can read my article about it here.