The festival started on the morning of September 1st. There were fireworks to wake us up at 8am. Five loud booms, then a pause, five more, then another pause, and then five more. Ben and I were stubborn, so we did not wake up with the fireworks. There were fireworks every hour on the hour, and by the 10am fireworks, we were ready to wake up.
We walked around town, to see how the festival was shaping up. There was already one of the mikoshi(portable shrines) being carried around the town, out of 20 people, about half of them weren’t wearing any pants. Many of them were wearing fundoshi, a traditional Japanese style banana hammock, the kind that sumo wrestlers wear, with a large rope wedged up their bums. But some of them were just wearing the tightey-whiteys.
We got there just as they were setting down the mikoshi down. The priest said a few words as he placed food and sake on an offering pedestal in front of the mikoshi. He waved a stick with folded papers over it, and lit incense. Groups of people all went to pray together at the shrine. They put their offering of buddle leaves on the pedestal, bowed their heads and clapped. Once everyone had gone up to pray, everyone, including Ben and I, was given sake to cheers to the kami (Shinto god) inside.
Ben and I went to go eat lunch, which in retrospect was really stupid. After lunch we decided to walk around town, watch some of our students carry some of the smaller mikoshi, and enjoy the beautiful weather. This is when we figured out it was really stupid to eat. People all over town were having parties, and Ben and couldn’t walk by one without being invited in to eat and drink. People also gave us gifts as we were leaving the parties, lots of grapes, beer, yakitori, and onigiri. I’m not sure if it’s normal for people to receive gifts, Ben and I tried to refuse, but we ended up with so much food we could barely fit it all in our fridge.
After walking around town, and eating enough for 15 people we went home to get ready for the evening festivities. My friend helped me put on a Yukata, which I will be writing more about later.
Ben and I joined the honmachi group to carry their mikoshi. There are about 20 different shrines in our town, and each has their own mikoshi. They are really big, beautiful, and heavy. We carried it all over town on our shoulders, there was no rhyme or reason to where we carried it, or how we carried it. There was no-one really in charge, the steering felt like it was coming from a herd of drunken monkeys. Once again I should remind you that many Japanese people, generally a very modest people, wore no pants, some also left the robes that they were wearing hang open, so the city looked like it had been taken over by the local geriatrics ward. The people carrying the mikoshi (portable shrine), shook the shrine quite violently, especially considering how heavy it was. They also chanted random things: usa-usa-usa, hoisa-hoisa-hoisa, za-za-za. Someone would start chanting a noise, and then everyone would repeat and chant it together. When someone yelled aaaaaaa, everyone else would yell aaaaaa, and raise their hands over their heads, letting the mikoshi rest on their shoulders. I have been told that this is supposed to be a ride for the amusement of the gods, or that it is a way of waking up the god.
Mikoshi are really heavy… really heavy. It takes about 20 people to carry them, but you will still have a bruised shoulder after carrying it for a while. Ben was at a disadvantage during the shine carrying, he is about 3 inches taller than the average Japanese man, which means he either had to squat walk the whole time, or make everyone else walk on their toes. People, including me and all of our friends, watching Ben would laugh so hard at him. I am about an inch shorter than the average Japanese man, which meant it only rested on my shoulders when we started shaking the shrine. I have bruises on my shoulders, but while my bruises are a nice purplish tint on my skin, Ben’s bruises look like a new, ink blot tattoo.
Ben and I were well recepted during the whole evening, and we were put front and center for the NHK television crews, which meant we had to be the most energetic. Everyone was just excited that we wanted to help.
We had fun carrying the shrines, and when it was finally time to house them in their resting spots again, we were worn out, and excited for the after parties.
To be continued…