Iriya Asagao Matsuri - Morning Glory Flower Festival

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Iriya Asagao Matsuri - Morning Glory Flower Festivalの写真1

2020.7.6(Mon) - 2020.7.8(Wed)

In the early Meiji period (1868-1912), a dozen gardeners were cultivating morning glories in Iriya. Every year they produced bigger flowers and unusual breeds making Iriya morning glories very popular. With growing urbanization this stopped in 1913. In 1948 a team of locals revived the summer tradition and brought back the Iriya Morning Glory Flower Festival.


The annual Asagao Matsuri or Morning Glory Festival is a staple of the calendar in the Iriya neighborhood, attracting up to 400,000 people over its three-day run in July. The festival celebrates Iriya’s history as a center of the flower industry, which flourished in the area from the mid-1800s until the early Taisho era (1912–1926). In those days, the Iriya lowland off the eastern edge of the Ueno plateau was known for its rich soil and large number of commercial gardens. Plant breeders at these gardens competed to produce ever more impressive varieties of flowers, with the morning glory one of their most popular subjects of experimentation. Breeders exhibited their achievements at annual flower markets, which at the height of their popularity, in the early 1890s, attracted so many visitors that traffic ground to a halt in the neighborhood.

Economic hardships and changing tastes in the 1910s and 1920s led to the decline of the flower industry. Iriya’s morning glory market faded from the popular imagination, and at the end of World War II, the neighborhood was completely destroyed by firebombing. The morning glories inspired the later effort to overcome this tragedy. In 1948, only three years after the end of the war, the local people came together and revived the flower market to celebrate their city’s rebirth. The Morning Glory Festival has been held every year since and now takes place from July 6 to 8. The action centers on Iriya Kishimojin temple, where about 50 flower stalls are set up from 5 o’clock in the morning. The morning glories on sale these days are mainly of the familiar round type, rather than the imaginative varieties popular back in the 1800s.

About Japanese Morning Glories

The asagao or Japanese morning glory is so named because it blooms in the early morning. The flower’s history in Japan goes back more than a thousand years. It was most likely brought into the country in the eighth century, when Japanese missions to Tang China imported all sorts of knowledge, goods, and germs from the continent. In those days the asagao was mainly grown for medicinal purposes and its seeds, ground and ingested as a laxative, were very expensive.

It was not until the Edo period (1603–1868) that the morning glory became widely recognized for its ornamental properties. In Edo (present-day Tokyo), low-ranking samurai in the Okachimachi area just south of Ueno pioneered the cultivation of asagao, often enlisting the help of plant breeders from Iriya. These horticulturalists took over completely after 1867, when the samurai-led Tokugawa government was deposed and the swordsmen of Okachimachi, having lost their livelihoods as samurai, suddenly had more pressing matters to attend to.

The morning glory remains a popular flower in Japan today, in part because it has become part of the curriculum at many elementary schools. Most first-graders grow their own morning glories during their first months at school, taking the plant home for watering during summer vacation. Many schools also require students to keep observation diaries and record changes in their flower’s appearance.

Venue (Shingenji Temple/Iriya Kishimojin)

Shingenji, a temple of the Hokke school of Nichiren Buddhism, is better known locally as Iriya Kishimojin. The temple has stood at its current location since 1659, when the Buddhist priest Nichiyu purchased an inexpensive plot of farmland on the outskirts of Edo (present-day Tokyo) and built a temple to house a small wooden statue. Nichiyu had traveled to Edo from Kochoji Temple, the Hokke headquarters in what is now Shizuoka Prefecture, as a missionary tasked with relaying the teachings of his school to the capital’s masses. The statue he had been entrusted with was a likeness of Kishimojin (Hariti in Sanskrit). According to Buddhist lore, the goddess Kishimojin had hundreds of offspring, but regularly abducted the children of others and fed them to her own. Determined to put a stop to Kishimojin’s evil ways, the Buddha hid away her youngest child, giving the goddess a taste of her own medicine. Unable to bear this agony, Kishimojin swore to repent, and was transformed into a protector of all children and childbirth. Nichiyu’s statue of this once fearsome deity remains at Shingenji, where it has survived both earthquakes and wars by virtue of being small enough to carry in one hand. The statue is displayed to the public on the 8th, 18th, and 28th of every month.

Iriya Kishimojin Temple (Shingen-ji) and surrounding areas
July 6-8, 2020

Shingen-ji temple
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Iriya Kishimojin Temple (Shingen-ji):
・1 min. walk from Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line Iriya Station
・3 min. walk from JR Uguisudani Station
Iriya Kishimojin Temple (Shingen-ji):
・1 min. walk from Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line Iriya Station
・3 min. walk from JR Uguisudani Station

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