Sunday, October 16, 2011

In which I nearly get concussed by mochi

I had another amazingly long day of fieldwork today, but this time I remembered to bring my xD card, so you get pictures!

I started the morning off by heading to Ikatsu Hachimangu.  Halfway to the shrine, I ran into a group of about ten kids (none of them could have been older than about five years old), carrying shishi, and their parents, who were making sure that they didn't wander into the middle of traffic.  There was an older gentleman acting as a sort of traffic guard and making sure that they kept up their chant (元気を出して!わっしょい!わっしょい!); it turned out that he was from the neighborhood patrol, which happens to have their office situated on Ikatsu Hachimangu's grounds.  Their parade was much less formal than the one at Gosha Shrine...and even less formal than the one at Yagoto Shrine.  The kids were all wearing happi, but the parents were just wearing normal clothes, and the kids, being kids, kept saying how tired/hungry/bored they were and that they wanted their parents to carry them or chasing each other around or forgetting that they were supposed to be chanting and poking each other instead.

I followed the parade of kids to Ikatsu Hachimangu, where they joined a bunch of other shishi-bearing groups.  It seems as though, rather than having a single parade cover the entire shrine-protected area, there were a series of small groups each carrying two shishi which circled smaller sections of the neighborhood.  Probably a good plan, when your shishi-bearers aren't old enough to be in elementary school.

As you can probably tell from the picture, a large...enclosure had been set up in the middle of the shrine grounds.

These papers were hanging up all over the enclosure.  Each one has the name of a requester (in black) and then what they were requesting (in red).  In this case, the requester is a local business and the request is "business prosperity."

A bunch of kids were playing in the gravel.

And here's the side of the enclosure in front of the shrine.  The baskets on top of the enclosure were full of mochi.

The guji arrived and purified everyone who had carried a shishi, and then all the kids went home while the guji led a special group (who would later be pitching mochi) into the honden for a special ceremony.

This group showed up late and missed the purification ceremony.  Apparently their leader had thought that the ceremony was taking place later than it actually was.

Here everyone is leaving...

I wanted to ask one of the shrine workers when the next part of the matsuri would be occurring, but he was busy talking to someone, so I stood nearby and waited for him to finish.
Then this little girl (she was probably about three) came up to me.
Girl: *holding up a leaf*  This is a leaf!
Me: Yes, that is a leaf.
Girl: *holding up a red rock*  This is a red rock!
Me: Yes, it's very pretty.
Girl: *holding up a white rock*  It matches this white rock!
Then she launched into an extremely elaborate explanation of how she had gone looking for rocks while her grandfather was doing something at the shrine, which I caught maybe half of, because she kept mumbling and using little kid words.  But she was SO ENTHUSIASTIC, and apparently not scared of me, which was kind of amazing, since pretty much all the other kids I've run into in Japan either stare at me or run away in fear when they see me.  In any case, her grandfather finished his business and took her home, and I went to talk to the shrine worker about when the second part of the festival (the mochi throwing) would be occurring.  He said it wouldn't start until 4 o' clock, and it was currently 1:30, so I had some time.  He also told me that there are three shrines in the area that do mochi throwing: Shiroyama Hachimangu, Ikatsu Hachimangu, and Kawahara Shrine.  He said that the people who throw the mochi are all people who are having yakudoshi* this year, and that the idea behind the mochi throwing is that they are taking their bad luck and spreading it out among a huge crowd of people, so the year isn't so bad for them.

Then he gave me a special charm from the shrine:

It's essentially a five-yen coin with a little piece of string knotted through it, wrapped in paper.  He said that it's a charm that's only made at Ikatsu Hachimangu, so that's super cool.  I thanked him profusely, and he said I was welcome back any time.

So then I headed out to find something to do for a couple of hours.  As it turns out, there's a Book Off! about ten minutes away.  Book Off! is a chain of used bookstores in Japan, and IT IS EPIC.  So many books for so little money. (They also sell CDs and DVDs and video games, but I am, and will always be, a giant bookworm.)  I had fun looking at all the book titles (Why Japan Is the Most Popular in the World was definitely high on the bizarre-o-meter), and wound up buying a copy of the fourth Durarara!! for 350 yen, 'cause I want to be able to read things that aren't stuffy books about Shinto.

Anyway, that, uh, pretty much sucked up all my time.  Like I said, I am a giant bookworm.

So I headed back to Ikatsu Hachimangu.

There were huge numbers of people streaming into the shrine, and for some reason all of them were carrying plastic bags.  HMMMMM.

This was about 20 minutes before the mochi throwing was due to start.  As you can tell, there weren't a whole lot of people there yet, but some of the mochi throwers were getting into position.

All the mochi throwers wore special vest-things that said "Ikatsu Hachimangu."

Starting to get pretty crowded...

About five minutes before the mochi throwing started, there were a series of announcements about how not to get hurt during the event.  First, the announcer asked the mochi throwers to please not throw "baseball style" (that is, overhand).  Second, the announcer asked that people not push each other.  (This was the point at which the group of three girls behinds me, who had been chatting nicely up to this point, turned to each other and said, "Well, it's every woman for herself now.")  Third, the announcer warned people that they might get hit in the head.  Fourth, the announcer suggested that people take off their glasses, because if the mochi hit them in the face, their glasses might go flying and break. (This was the point at which I took my glasses off and started edging away from the really fierce-looking old lady, who was jockeying for position to my right.  She had TWO plastic bags and was ready to use them.)  Fifth, the announcer told everyone that the actual mochi throwing would probably take about three minutes.

And then the mochi was thrown.

I have to say, it was one of the most terrifying epic things I have ever been through.  (It probably didn't help that my glasses were off, so I had no depth perception to speak of.)  Imagine being surrounded on all sides by people who are throwing mochi at you (and mochi, by the way, is not a particularly soft substance; imagine if people were lobbing gobs of slightly-dried Play-Dough at you), and all the people next to you immediately hit the ground to pick up the mochi that falls or hold up their plastic bags to catch the mochi raining down.  There was some seriously cut-throat behavior going on: people snatching mochi from each other, pushing each other out of the way, etc.  This was the point at which I got whacked in the back of the head with a piece of mochi, which hurt.  (My head's still kind of sore, five hours later, so I think it might bruise.)  However, being whacked in the head made my brain go into karate mode, which meant that mochi = attack, and the next piece of mochi that came flying at me, I automatically did a catch-block on (I dunno what my brain was thinking, other than maybe "ooh, should catch this and then BREAK ALL THE BONES IN ITS ARM"), which basically meant that I caught a piece of hurtling mochi out of the air.  Then someone behind me had the GALL to try to snatch it FROM MY HAND, as if that would ever work.  I did not relinquish my death grip on the mochi (it was going to PAY for that cheap head shot).

(Here is my cowering prey, mwahahaha.)

As it turned out, the mochi throwing only lasted for about 90 seconds, not the originally estimated 3 minutes.

Here everyone is, pouring back out of the shrine.

As I was leaving, I saw the shrine worker I had spoken to earlier, and I held up the piece of mochi I had got and said, "I caught one!"  He grinned, and then thrust a bag full of mochi (plus two more of the five-yen charms) at me.  As usual, the exchange went something along the lines of "But but but but" "TAKE IT" "THANK YOU."  And then I was swept away by the crowd.

So then I walked to Kawahara Shrine, where there were already A MILLION bicycles parked on the sidewalk, and the street had been shut down on either end.

There were a variety of festival stands set up throughout the grounds.  This one was for a shark fishing game, in which kids used little fishing poles with magnets on the end to pick up plastic sharks (with bells in their mouths) and win prizes.

Here's a bunch of kids (and their parents) parading out of the shrine with a shishi.

Another festival staple: the cucumber on a stick!  I'm not sure why I'd pay 200 yen for a cucumber, but whatever.

More stands!

Here's the mochi throwing area, already set up for tomorrow.

A stage had been set up in front of the shrine office, and there they were performing...


(The girl on the left is the miko I spoke to the first day.)

I have to say, the miko at Kawahara Shrine are much more synchronized in their kagura than the miko I've seen at the other shrines.

Then these kids came out and did a dance as well.

This blog is now about dancing children, every day.

This was, unfortunately, the best picture I could get of the musicians performing.  While I'm pretty tall by Japanese standards, I'm not THAT tall.

Then these guys came out and danced, and I could not get a decent picture of them, because the sun was setting and my camera hates darkness.

Then the head of the musicians (with the microphone) and the guji (on her right) tried to convince everyone to back up and tried to separate the audience into children and adults.  Everyone ignored them.

Then they pitched candy and snacks into the audience.  Fortunately I managed not to be hit or trampled this time, although I also didn't get any.

Throwing stuff + dusk = trippy camera

Once that was done, a surprising number of people went to pray their respects to the kami.  At most of the other festivals I've been attending, once the event is over, everyone leaves, but most people stuck around here.

Here's the long line of people going to pray their respects to the kami.

The stands and the lanterns were lit as the sun went down, which was really cool!

I grabbed some kara-age (fried chicken...sort of) for dinner, and then I wandered over to the shrine office, where I was dragged inside and introduced to a bunch of important people.  One of the guys who belonged to the local ujiko organization explained a little bit more about the mochi throwing to me.  He said that the mochi symbolizes the unluckiness, so when you pick up the mochi, it's like you're taking someone else's unluckiness away.  "So instead of the yakudoshi people getting really sick and dying, you'll get a little sick instead!" he concluded.  It puts a whole new spin on those people who were so desperate to get their hands on as much mochi as they could...

I also talked the guji about the mochi throwing, and she said that it's gotten a lot safer than it used to be.  When she was little, not only was the mochi thrown from the ROOF, it wasn't wrapped in a little plastic bag like it is now.  She said that people wouldn't care and would just brush the dirt off the mochi and eat it anyway, since it was supposed to be protected by the kami, but now people don't want to risk it.  She also said that a lot of places have opted for just passing out the mochi instead of throwing it, but that's no fun.  Apparently, Kawahara Shrine throws a lot more goodies than most other shrines; they added the candy throwing today, and at Setsubun,** they throw candy along with beans, because "otherwise it's just too mean."  The guji said that when she was little she was so thrilled to catch anything being thrown--it didn't even matter what it was--that she wanted to share that feeling with the local kids.

We also worked out the details of the meeting next Monday; it's basically going to involve taking the subway to the train and then the train to Higashi Okazaki, which is where the meeting is being held.

As I was leaving, one of the shrine workers gave me this little bag of rice.  It's apparently from the shinden*** of the shrine, and you're supposed to mix it with regular white rice and eat it.  An omamori that you can eat?  I AM SO INTO THIS.

Tomorrow's another insanely full day, so I shall leave it at that and collapse into bed.

*Unlucky years.  They vary from shrine to shrine, but they tend to be around 19 and 33 for women and 25 and 40-ish for men.  Of course, some shrines add extra years, and you're not supposed to be entirely safe for the years on either side of the unlucky years as well.

**Setsubun is a holiday taking place on February 3 (which, according to the lunar calendar, is the beginning of spring).  Essentially, people dress in demon masks, and you chase them out of the house, pelting them with beans and yelling, "Demons out, good luck in!"  I've actually celebrated Setsbun before (at Foothill), so I'm looking forward to seeing it in Japan.

***The most sacred place in the shrine, where the kami are enshrined.

1 comment:

  1. I love reading these posts! Does anyone else read these with Dana's voice in your head? Hahaha :D