Cherry blossoms and businessmen

In the indigenous Japanese religious holiday Sannou-sai, portable shrines (mikoshi) of are carried down from Mount Hiei for a huge festival. The deities are prayed to for a bountiful harvest. At night, about (what seemed like) 100 of the town’s local young men dress up in fundoshi and repeatedly rock these huge mikoshi back and forth violently to represent the female deity’s giving birth to wakamiya (according to Kanji Go program means “shrine dedicated to a child of the god of the main shrine” After rocking the shrines, the men carry them to Hiyoshi Taisha. Of course, the actual experience is beyond words or recordings but I did try to take photos.

Mugi, an alumni from KSU who works in the sculpture department took me to the festival. Hiyoshi Taisha is about a 5 minute walk from her house. She randomly invited me to come, and I’m so thankful that she did. I say randomly, because I only really had met her briefly once before, and it’s funny, because when I first saw her at school, I really thought I’d somehow met her in America (she’s never been to America). For some reason, she looked startlingly familiar. She was a sculpture student at Seika five years ago, now works at school and doing office work.

At the festival, we joined a huge crowd of people to watch about 50 men in fundoshi up on stage rock the shrines back and forth, side to side, shouting the deities’ names, which lasted for about 40 minutes. There was a huge cherry blossom tree hovering over the crowd, and every time the wind blew, hundreds of petals float towards the stage, glimmering in the light against the purple night sky. Old ladies would say, “Oh, it’s just like snow, isn’t it?” to each other.

When the rocking was over, the men carried the four shrines and gigantic bamboo stalk torches and headed up the hill to install the deities into the main shrine. We eagerly and aggressively pushed our way through the crowd to chase after the shrines, dodging the occasional fiery bamboo pole or leaping over its ashes, trying to photograph the whole thing all the while.

We ate yakisoba, dorayaki, and sugar-coated sweet potatoes at some of the hundreds of vendors that line the path up to the shrine. After that, we walked to her house. I met her parents, who are AMAZING. Her mother is a sculptor. She has wild, frizzy purple and black hair. Her father is a naturalist (with artistic inclinations, he said “nature is my inspiration” in English) with a gray-haired bowl-cut. Her mother made us a wonderful meal, they are so kind, and were very excited I play the banjo (I mentioned it when I saw the grand piano, two violins, and guitar as we warmed ourselves in front of the wood burning stove). I hope I can take photos of the place soon, the bathroom is bedecked with tiny, beautiful plastic, wooden and porcelain animals, and an AMAZING cloud calendar.

As I was leaving, her parents also gave me two oranges from their garden. Mugi drove me back to the station. On the train, I was almost moved to tears by her and her parents’ willingness to embrace me and overall kindness and generosity despite my being a complete stranger. I don’t think such a thing would ever happen in America.

I’m sick this weekend and since Friday had just been sitting around, not really doing anything except trying to get better. Now herea are some pictures

Carrying the shrine

Actually, I lied. I’m invited to “Midnight Nembutsu”, midnight praying at Kiyomizudera.