What’s the Story, Morning Glory… Festival?

What is the one thing that children in Japan always at some point try their hand at looking after. Goldfish? Dyed baby chicks? A Tamagotchi? No, it’s morning glory (asagao)! This charming flower is perhaps the most familiar of all flowers for Japanese people because they encounter it first at school.

Relatively easy to nurture and rear, school kids in Japan always at some point are given the task of looking after a morning glory, often during the summer vacation. The Iriya Asagao Matsuri (Iriya Morning Glory Festival) is an event, then, that’s definitively a summer one. Over 100 stalls line the streets of Iriya in east Tokyo selling pots and pots of morning glories.

This year the matsuri took place in scorching temperatures from July 6th to 8th. Given that the PingMag office is mere minutes’ walk away from Iriya, the editorial team decided to pop down and check out this super summery festival.

The Iriya Asagao Matsuri has a history going back to the Edo era. During this time it was very popular among the warrior class to grow and cultivate morning glories, especially high-grade breeds which could transform into unusual flowers. Although they didn’t have any inkling of plant genetics at this time, through experience they learnt to cross-fertilize and create all kinds of wonderful and beautiful flowers. And things didn’t stop when the age of the warriors came to an end either. Since the florists and plant sellers of Iriya were said to have the best morning glories, lots of people would go to see them and this led to the start of the organized festival.

Okay, that’s enough history for now. Let’s take a look at the morning glories!

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The Asagao Matsuri happens on Kototoi-dori in Iriya, with the Tokyo Skytree dazzling in the background.
Everywhere you look there were stacks and stacks of morning glories, either at the stalls or being transported on trolleys.
The stalls were “manned” by feisty but friendly Edokko girls.
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The Iriya Kishimojin shrine is a central fixture of the festival, where you could buy special morning glory amulets.
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Every year crowds of locals and others throng in the streets to get their hands on the morning glory they want.
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We bought this morning glory omamori talisman from Iriya Kishimojin.

What’s fun about the Asagao Matsuri is not only looking at the rows of colorful morning glories and interacting with the jocular florists. It’s a proper summer festival… and that means lots and lots of food stalls too!

You can tell it’s well and truly summer. The banner reads “Ice Ice Ice Ice”!
This one is selling corn on the cob.
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Another typical matsuri stall is the goldfish scooping game. Alas this amateur from the PingMag editors team proved incapable of catching even one!