So I have come to a realization: I AM SURROUNDED BY SMALL CHILDREN.
But more on that later.
I went to Yagoto Shrine's festival today. I was arriving just as the guji was purifying everyone who would be participating in there ceremony, which gave me some time to look at the mikoshi.
...these mikoshi were pretty clearly made by elementary school students.
Because nothing says "Shinto" like the World Cup. Or Tony Tony Chopper.
I think this is supposed to be a giant pink panda?
Here's the guji purifying the mikoshi. (The thing she has in her hand is a sakaki branch.) Also, that's a whole lot of orange soda next to her.
In any case, I went to the shrine office, where I discovered that all the shrine workers at Yagoto are male. (Normally it's a male priest, female miko [...well, I guess there's no such thing as male miko], and either female or male shrine workers, but more commonly female). Anyway, one of the shrine workers kindly gave me a bunch of pamphlets on the history of the shrine, and explained a little bit about the festival before he had to go set things up. He said that during the Edo and Meiji periods, the ward in which Yagoto Shrine is located wasn't particularly affluent, and so they couldn't afford flashy festivals. He said that the festival used to just consist of the shishi, but now they've added the kids' mikoshi.
Oh, yeah, there were at least a hundred kids there. I guess I forgot to mention that bit.
One of the shrine workers came out with snacks for the kids (I think it was dried squid), was swarmed, and then ignored once the food ran out.
Speaking of children being children, SO MUCH ROUGH HOUSING. I have to say, the kids at Gosha were pretty well behaved; they wandered out of line and ran around, but they didn't do anything particularly terrifying. The kids here... OH GEEZ. Kids pelting each other with gravel, one kid kicking gravel out of the shrine grounds to watch it bounce down the hill (don't do that; it just creates more work for the shrine workers), kids climbing on the mikoshi despite their moms telling them that they'd break them, and one kid who pushed another boy over and started kicking him. YIKES. I have to admit I nearly went into big sister mode and separated them, but fortunately a mom saw what they were doing and came and resolved the issue. I think part of the problem was that the kid-adult ratio was really high; although today was a national holiday (so the kids didn't have school), a lot of businesses didn't close, so both parents couldn't come to the festival. At Gosha, on the other hand, there were a lot of adults who came without kids, so even if both parents couldn't come, the kids didn't overrun everything.
Then the kids hoisted their mikoshi, and off they went!
This mikoshi was a replica of Nagoya Castle.
So I followed the mikoshi, expecting them to go in a roughly circular route, before returning to the shrine, but instead...
...they came to a fair/festival/thing that had been set up in a nearby park.
People chilling, and SO MANY KIDS.
They had a lottery that you could win tissues in here as well, but the second best prize was cup ramen. Oh man.
They were making yakisoba at this stall.
(Yakisoba is a kind of fried noodle mixed with vegetables. It's a festival staple.)
So I hung around there for a while, and then headed back to Yagoto Shrine...where I discovered that everyone had already left. SIGH.
So then I went to Shiogama Shrine, which was supposed to be having a festival today as well. The shrine was INCREDIBLY CROWDED, but I saw no evidence of a festival. Then again, they didn't actually say what time the festival was, so for all I know it could have been held at 8 in the morning or later that afternoon or something.
However, at the shrine there were...
...about a million children. (Well, just take this picture and multiply it by a million.)
Not only were there a ton of people bringing their babies for omiyamairi, it also turns out that Shiogama decided that instead of letting shichigosan* run for the whole of November, they'd let it run for all of October and November. So there were a million little kids there for that too.
Also, a lot of moms dressed in matching outfits with their daughters, so there were a number of women and children wearing beautiful matching kimono. There was also a mother and daughter who were wearing matching gothic lolita dresses. They kept getting double-takes from the other parents.
Then a gentleman who was volunteering for crowd control (!) came over and talked to me for a few minutes and gave me a pamphlet about the history of the shrine. Awesome, awesome.
As I was leaving, I saw this billboard (the two advertisements are on opposite sides). The first is advertising getting a family portrait after omiyamairi, and the second is advertising portraits after shichigosan.
So then I headed home and read some and studied and went to class (because Nanzan doesn't believe in national holidays) and learned about metaphors.
And now, because a couple of people have asked for it, I shall give you a recipe I totally made up by reading my Japanese cookbook and staring at stuff in the grocery store. After describing it to Mary (my cool friend in Saga), she described it as "fancy nikujaga," so I call it:
Ingredients! (This will make two servings)
3-ish cloves of garlic
1 chunk of ginger
4 shitake mushrooms
1 satsuma imo
1 chunk of renkon
1 Japanese green pepper
some beef shavings (you can leave this out if you want to make a vegetarian version, obviously)
half a Japanese eggplant
some sort of cooking oil
Step one! Cut up the onions, garlic, ginger, and mushrooms like so. The ginger should be cut into thin strips, if you can't see all that well in the picture.
This is a satsuma imo. It's a kind of potato; you might see them called "satsuma potatoes" or "satsumaimo" if you try to buy them in an Asian market. They are sweeter than regular potatoes and when uncooked they have the consistency and flavor of wood. Mmm, wood.
Step two! Wash your satuma imo and potato, cut the ends off your satsuma imo, wrap both of them in a paper towel, and then microwave them for about four minutes.
This is a Japanese green pepper. It's like an American green pepper, but really tiny (and sweeter). You can probably substitute an American green pepper if you want.
This is half of a Japanese eggplant. They're thinner and less tough than American eggplants.
Step three! Cut the eggplant and green pepper into strips. Note: If you're using a fresh eggplant, you probably won't be able to see any seeds when you cut into it; they'll be flat, green discs. The eggplant I was using was kind of old, so that's why you can see the seeds.
Step four! Remove your potatoes from the microwave.
Then, cut the potato into cubes. Note that they'll only be partially cooked and will probably be sticky and kind of weird. That's fine.
Then cut the satsuma imo into cubes. The best way to do this is to cut it in half lengthwise and then chop it into cubes.
This is renkon. If you try to buy it in the States, it'll probably be called "lotus root" or "lotus tuber."
You can also take this opportunity to marvel at my photographic prowess.
Step five! Wash and then peel the renkon. DO NOT try to use a potato peeler; it won't work and you'll probably just hurt yourself. Use a sharp knife and be very, very careful. Next, cut the very ends off the renkon; you won't want to use them 'cause they're dried up and gross.
If the center of the root is weird (like mine was), now is your chance to cut it out.
...and chopping time!
These are beef shavings. They're random slivers of beef. They're also cheaper than buying normal beef. Go figure.
Step six! In a bit of oil, fry the onions, garlic, ginger, and beef. Your flame should be as high as humanly possible.
Step seven! Add the green pepper, potato, satsuma imo, and renkon IN THAT ORDER. Stir fry for about thirty seconds to a minute.
Step eight! Add the eggplant, mushrooms, sake, and soy sauce.
Step nine! Add some water. I don't know exactly how much I added in cups, but it was about 1 1/2 rice bowls?
Step ten! Keep your flame up all the way and cook. You probably want to make sure that the eggplant is as submerged as possible.
Interlude! The first alcohol I have ever bought in my life! I wasn't even carded. It was kind of anticlimactic, to be honest. But it's so nice to not have to ask someone else to buy me cooking sake.
Step eleven! After a while, your water will mostly boil off and you be left with a bunch of stuff in a sauce-like substance.
Step twelve! Crack two eggs into the pan and then turn your stove OFF. If you actually kept your flame up at the highest setting while cooking, the temperature of the food will be high enough that it will cook the eggs as you mix them in, creating a delicious egg-sauce-thing. If you keep your stove on, the eggs will overcook and turn into scrambled eggs. If you had your stove set too low, you'll have raw eggs all over everything.
Step thirteen! Stirstirstirstirstirstirstir.
Step fourteen! Enjoy!
...everything I make looks so gross but tastes so delicious.
Then again, maybe it only looks gross to me, because whenever I'm cooking and my suitemates come in, they immediately comment on how much they want to eat whatever I am making/how delicious it looks.
YAY, FOOD. I have been eating a lot of it, thanks to all the walking I've been doing.
Also, I need to get more sleep. Gonna get on that tonight.
*Shichigosan (literally seven-five-three) is a festival running for all of November. It commemorates certain traditional landmark's in a children's life:
At three boys and girls got to wear their hair in a more adult style
At five boys were allowed to wear pants
At seven girls were allowed to wear kimono
*Culinary puns? Oh yes.