In all honesty, though, I should have just waited. Although sakura season's still a ways off, the early birds are already feasting on ume, plum blossoms. My friend Sensei went to Setagaya last weekend, and the photos she posted on Facebook made me jealous. When I read that Yushima Tenmangu was hosting an ongoing ume matsuri - plum festival - I knew where I would be going before my Nihonga lesson on Saturday.
Yushima Tenmangu is near Ueno Park - I got off the train at Yushima Station and followed Google Maps to the foot of a very steep set of stairs, capped by a stone torii. When I got to the top I was greeted by an assortment of food stalls, which I promised myself I would check out after seeing what was going on. The line of petitioners waiting to throw in a coin and clap to announce their presence wasn't too long, but Tenjin's popularity was evident in mountains of ema. Since I am trying to get better at adulting I'm attempting to "budget," so I decided not to buy an ema myself (also, I have at least ten I still haven't painted), but I did join the line to offer a coin and petition for academic success. At the moment my 4.0 GPA looks safe for this semester, but I'm still a long ways from earning my master's.
Before I did that, though, I checked out the golden calf (bulls are one of Tenjin's symbols) and washed my hands at the ablution fountain. As I rinsed out my mouth, I realized they were playing music and was thinking how nice it was, but it wasn't until I looked around the corner of the nearest food stall that I realized the music was live - a flute and a koto in the midst of a traditional Japanese garden.
I was just thinking about how I wanted some drums at my festival, no matter how much I loved the flute, when I came across a stage set up at the back of the temple. Nearby a small ensemble was playing strings and accordion, and I had a surreal moment where I wasn't sure what country I was in or the festival I was at (Germany? Oktoberfest??), but the stage in front of me had drums set up, so I found a seat and did a little sketching while the audience filled up. Finally a group of kids and middle aged women carrying lanterns took the stage, and I got to hear my drums...although I soon found myself wanting to get up and move to the music.