Admiration for a big flower and service against tooth aches: Bunkyō Ajisai Matsuri

Bunkyō Ajisai Matsuri is an annual event at Hakusan Shrine celebrating the blooming of around 3,000 hydrangea flowers (ajisai in Japanese) around the shrine at the start of June.

While the viewing of cherry blossoms is most famous in Japan, many other flowers also have their dedicated events such as azaleas at Nezu shrine and chrysanths at Yushima shrine. Almost every month of the year you can visit a flower related festival in Tokyo where you can gaze over some exceptional scenery. There are a lot of places in the Tokyo area that have many hydrangea such as Toshimaen, Machida and Fuchū. However, Hakusan stands out as the only major and traditional place in central Tokyo for hydrangeas.

The focus on flowers in Japan make me understand why so many Japanese tourists insist on coming to Brussels to see the flower carpet at the Grand Place or why a visit to the Netherlands cannot be complete without seeing the tulips at Keukenhof.

View on the shrine from the Fujizuka

Viewing spots at Hakusan Shrine:

  1. Approach to the Shrine: most visitors come in through the closest route from Hakusan Station (A3 exit) or Honkomagome Station. However, this is not the main entrance. The right way to enter is by coming in through the East side, follow the stairs and the main path towards to front of the shrine. Along the sides of this path are many hydrangeas.
  2. Miniature Fuji Mountain (Fujizuka with Asama Jinja): there is a small hill behind the shrine (take the underpass on the right hand side when you stand in front of the shrine) that is shaped as Mt. Fuji and is part of an old cult of worshipping Japan’s most sacred mountain (more about that in my miniature Fuji article). This hill is full of hydrangeas and is the main attraction during the festival. You can climb the hill only during the festival period early June between 9:00 and 17:00, and can get pretty crowded.

During the festival period they organise many events and concerts, nothing too special, just some local organisations such as from the neighbouring Tōyō University. The one event that stands out most is the memorial service for toothbrushes, organized twice during the festival. They also set up a dental information corner at the shrine.

The toothbrush service is called ha-burashi-kuyō (歯ブラシ供養) and dates from the days that dental care was not widely available. We all know how much a tooth can hurt, and imagine that going on without the proper treatment. No wonder people used to ask the gods for help. This shrine became a destination to ask for help since the Edo period. The exact reason why is unclear though. One theory claims that an empress got rid of her toothache after coming to this shrine, another theory sees a connection in a play of Chinese characters (歯苦散 is pronounced hakusan, meaning “tooth pain disappear!”)

The toothbrush memorial service in 2018

Side of the shrine near the Fujizuka

Hydrangeas come in various colors, in total there are 20 different types of hydrangea at Hakusan Shrine

In practice

5-31-26 Hakusan, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Closest station:
Hakusan Station – 2 minutes walk from exit A3 (Toei Mita Line)
Honkomagome Station – 6 minutes walk (Namboku line)

Opening hours: shrine grounds always open, Fujizuka open between 9:00 and 17:00 during the festival days early June (in 2018: between 9 and 17 June)

Entrance fee: free

When to best visit? early in the morning (less bees)

Web: http://www.city.bunkyo.lg.jp/ajisai.html (Japanese only)

Name in Japanese: 文京あじさいまつり