Boy with goggle eyes at the Fujimori shrine Horse race

May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan. Historically it used to be boy’s day, and the activities associated with it are still distinctly masculine, including archery, horse racing and Samurai armour displays.

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Girl viewing the horse racing

But girls get to join in the fun too as this little one proves.

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Rider and Groom at Fujmori shrine

The riders perform all sorts of very dangerous acrobatic tricks on horses galloping unbelievably fast with no more protection than the headgear you see here, which looks like a wicker coaster!

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Horse racing assistant at Fujimori shrine races

Assistants stand by to slow the galloping horses down before they crash into the crowd

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Young racer at the Fujimori Horse Races

This young boy was incredibly brave despite still being at junior school.

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The Samurai armour procession at Fujimori

Locals bring out their family armour for the day. One chap we spoke to said his ancestors were “Sometimes Samurai, sometimes farmers.”

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Samurai footwear at the parade
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Close up of Samurai helmet

A serious looking man in the Samurai parade at Fujimori

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Drummers at Fujinomori Shrine

Other activities at the shrine include group drumming

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Priests at Fujinomori shrine

The priests purify themselves before the festivals, which incude taking the shrine Deities out in a procession.

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A cat nap at Inari Shrine

Shrine assistants help to haul the heavy shrine carriages up to the priests. It’s clearly tiring work

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Inari Shrine Deity carriage

The shrine Deity is housed in a beautifully decorated cask, decorated with shining bells, metal work and tassels

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Inari Shrine close up
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Pheonix on an Inari shrine carriage
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Head Priest at Inari shrine

The red-cloaked priest is just visible on the right as he removes the shrine Deity from its huge carriage to bless the crowds.

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Inari Shrine priests

These priests prepare to greet the head priest and the shrine deity at Inari.Fushimi Inari Taisha is the full name of this shrine, located in Kyoto.

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Shinto worshippers at Inari Shrine
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Protective cover for the shrine Deity at Inari

When the shrine Deity is removed from the float it is immediately hidden by the priest in this protective covering.

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Offerings at Inari Shrine

Inari is one of the main Kami of Shinto.The deity is responsible for fertility, rice, agriculture, foxes, industry and worldly success. Fresh foods are offered to join the offerings of sake at the shrine. Being made from rice, sake is an ideal offering to Inari.

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The Hollyhock festival princess, or Saio-Dai, at Kamigamo shrine, Kyoto

The Aoi Matsuri, or “Hollyhock Festival,” is one of the main Shinto festivals of Kyoto. The procession itself is held annually on the 15th of May. For several days before the procession, shrine rites occur, including the purification of the young woman chosen as the Saio-Dai of the year.
Originally a royal princess would have been chosen, but now it is always a young unmarried lady of Kyoto.
She dresses in traditional Heian period clothing, decorated with aoi [hollyhock] leaves.
The festival originated to appease the Deities, after a terrible drought.
The original role of Saiƍ-Dai was to maintain ritual purity and to represent the Emperor at the festival.

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The Saio-dai goes down to the river

The Saio-Dai has 50 ladies-in-waiting who go through the rituals with her. Here she and two young helpers go down to the river to wash their hands as part of the purification.

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Washing of hands in the Kamo river
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Paper dolls in the purification ritual

The Saio-Dai’s helpers move paper dolls over their chests then throw them into the river to purify themselves for the Aio Matsuri festival.

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The Saio-Dai's ladies

The Saio-Dai’s ladies in waiting dress in many layers of colourful robes and wear hollyhock leaves pinned to their collars.

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Saio-Dai's ladies close up
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Patterned robes of the Saio-Dai's ladies
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The Saio-Dai and many of her helpers pose for official photographs at Kamigamo shrine, Kyoto
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The cheeky lady-in-waiting

This little one gets a bit bored and pulls a funny face.

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Young ladies-in-waiting
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The Saio-Dai's ladies in waiting

The ladies in waiting line up for group photographs.

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A smile from one of the Saio-dai's ladies
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The Saio-Dai and her key helpers

The Saio-Dai and some of her ladies in waiting, wear headdresses shaped like the sun and the moon.

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