New Years Eve is a night that promises much but often delivers very little and I long gave up on doing anything whatsoever on it but this time was different as I came back to Tokyo on a 24 hour round trip from Izu to attend an event that featured in a ‘TF Top 10……Quirky Japanese Festivals‘ post a couple of years ago.
The Oji Kitsune-no-gyoretsu Fox Parade is one that I’ve been aware of for many years now and it’s been growing in popularity recently but New Years Eve just isn’t the easiest time to attend such an event as I have always been overseas (Honduras, England, Thailand…) or in Hiroshima but knowing that we’d be in Izu this time I sensed there was a chance. My wife gave me the all-clear to attend (New Year is very important for Japanese) and then I had to pray that the weather forecast would justify the seven hour round trip in such a short space of time. Thankfully, the initially predicted rain turned into just cold, cloudy weather (every day before and after was sunshine!) and finally my mind was made up.
The trains may have been in service all night but I still thought it easier to use my own wheels so I cycled to Oji Inari Jinja shrine (not to be confused with Oji Jinja Shrine which is just 600 metres away and one of ‘The Ten Shrines Of Tokyo‘) and left my bicycle near there as that would be where the nights events would culminate at around 1:30am.
The story behind this festival is that basically white foxes from all over the Kantō region gathered around a big nettle tree and partied away at the shrine on December 31st. Hiroshige depicted this get-together, known as the kitsune no gyōretsu (fox procession) in a famous woodblock print and inspired by this beautiful art, the residents of Oji began to host this Fox Pageant event a few decades ago as a traditional event for New Years Eve.
In anticipation of getting my face painted in fox-style make up (500 yen) I thought I had better shave before going out. I was quite taken aback by how cold it was when applied to my face, lips and so on. With an itchy and runny nose it really was difficult at times to resist rubbing it throughout the evening.
I was in two minds about whether to wear my comical fox piggyback costume or not as I wasn’t sure if it would be insensitive or make a mockery of the whole spectacle. In the end I decided to bring it with me and see how things went. I’d have been annoyed if I had left it at home though and then wanted to wear it. At worst I’d just have to carry a big bag around all night! However, when I met up with my friend Chris a middle-aged Aussie couple asked me about the event and spotted that I had a costume in my bag which led to them giving me the prompting I needed to put it on.
As it was, it went down very well and raised many chuckles and smiles from a lot of people, particularly the kids, throughout the evening. In a way it was very similar to cosplaying at Tokyo ComicCon or wherever but this time I was a far bigger focus of attention and posed for many pictures throughout the night. The major photo opportunity was not me but the two giant fox masks on the main road just a stones throw from the parade’s starting point.
Both the shrines which form part of this fox pageant have featured in a previous ‘On The Fox Trail……‘ post and I even did a dummy run on Christmas Eve as I wanted to collect some information about the event from Yamawa shop and remind myself of how long it would take to get there and so on. Shōzoku Inari Jinja (2-30-14 Oji, Kita-ku) is a small shrine on the corner of a backstreet and at any other time of the year you are highly likely to have the whole place to yourself but it was absolutely rammed with people. With the current boom in tourism in Japan, this Fox Pageant was attended by far more foreigners than ever before.
As for the actual parade (gyouretsu), that started just after midnight when there was actually a countdown and something of a fanfare at the end of it which in my (limited) experience is rare in Japan where the ushering in of a new year is often met with silence!
We departed hastily after 2018 had begun but it was already too late for us to get any decent kind of view for the parade. Having earlier been given a special pass by one of the organisers (because she loved my costume!) to actually participate in the parade I maybe should have taken up the offer but I wanted to be able to watch it like everyone else.
Unofficial Tokyo Fox photographer Chris departed for the station whilst I followed the parade as it went under the train tracks and onto Oji Inari-jinja Shrine (1-12-26 Kishimachi, Kita-ku). I did eventually manage to join the parade on the home straight where I met some very nice people and also got interviewed by TV and waffled on about the event, foxes and their connection to Leicester City for ages!! All 0n the cutting room floor no doubt!
I really couldn’t bother to join the long line waiting to ascend the steps leading to the shrine eagerly awaiting the custom known as hatsumode (symbolic first visit of the year) which pretty much every Japanese person does on January 1st or shortly after that. I had popped into the shrine briefly on my arrival in the area earlier in the evening and thought it best to leave the Japanese to indulge in their custom.
The roads were pretty much deserted as I rode back to the Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre in Itabashi. I got back at around 2am and was still buzzing from the event as it is rare that the transition from one year to the next is so memorable. If I never go out on New Years Eve again then I will always have the memories of this quirky event.
Click on the links below to read previous ‘On The Fox Trail……’ posts…
Zao Fox Village (Miyagi) Fushimi-Inari Shrine (Kyoto) Oji (Tokyo) Saijo-Inari Shrine (Okayama) Toyokawa Inari Tokyo Betsuin (Tokyo) Osaka Toyokawa Inari (Aichi) Kasama Inari Shrine (Ibaraki) Haneda (Tokyo) Motonosumi Inari Shrine (Yamaguchi) The Tokyo Fox Global Operations Centre