Monday, October 17, 2011

In which people keep giving me food

Susanoo Shrine was having their festival today, so I walked over this morning to check it out.  When I arrived, there were only about five people there, but I asked one of the women who seemed to be in charge  if I could observe the festival and gave her my business card.  She said sure, and wait just a moment, and then she came back and said the guji already knew who I was.  As it turns out, Nakano-san, Gosha Shrine's guji, is also the guji of Susanoo Shrine.  She told me a bunch about the shrine's history, including that the mountain kami enshrined in one of the side shrines was actually originally enshrined in a temple, but during shinbutsu bunri*, the kami was transferred to the newly built Susanoo Shrine.

The actual ceremony was very small, since there were only nine of us, plus the guji.  Since this festival was the big fall festival, it was longer than usual, because the guji had to perform separate ceremonies in the honden, in front of the mountain kami's shrine, and then inside the shrine office, where there is a small Ebisu shrine.  The shrine precincts are very small, and because there wasn't a huge crowd, we could very clearly hear everything that was happening in the neighborhood surrounding the shrine.  Not only was there a large construction project going on in the next block over (so there would be jackhammer noises every few minutes), there was a large group of crows nearby being VERY LOUD.**  After the ceremony, the guji commented on the crows; apparently Susanoo is believed to use crows as a sort of spirit animal, and so their presence was an affirmation that the ceremony was going well!

I stuck around after the ceremony to talk to the guji, and she showed me the norito she had been reading.  They're written in the old, kanji-only-version of Japanese, so they're incredibly difficult to read.  The copies she had were done in beautiful calligraphy; she said her husband made them for her.  As I was chatting with the guji, one of the older gentlemen from the ujiko organization came over and was pouring everyone purifying sake (which I have now learned is called omiki).  He asked me if I drank, and I said I didn't, and so he taught me the correct protocol for non-drinkers.  Essentially, the pourer pantomimes pouring sake, and you pantomime drinking it.  Good to know for next time!

It also turned out that the one of the guys who was supposed to show up to the ceremony (he's from the local ujiko organization) couldn't make it today, so they had an extra lunch set.  Which meant that I got to have lunch with a bunch of really cool people, and hear terrifying stories about crows.  Crows, being scavengers, have a habit of going after garbage bags, so people put nets over them garbage bags to keep the crows away.  But apparently it doesn't always work, since one of the gentlemen there said he had seen a crow just scoop up the net and fly away with the garbage bag in it.  Yikes.  I also got to learn some cool crow-related mythology--apparently crows are a symbol of death, since they are supposed to perch on the roofs of houses where people were dead or dying...kind of like vultures in Western culture, I suppose.  Also, the reason the crow is black is because he wanted to be the prettiest bird in the world, and so he went to all the other birds and asked what color was the prettiest, and then mixed all their suggestions together...which produced black.

During the ceremony, as usual, the guji had offered a variety of foods to the kami, but after the ceremony, the offerings were removed from the honden and divided up among the participants, so everyone got to take a bit of kami-blessed food home.  I got to help two of the other women to divide everything up fairly, and they taught me the names of a whole bunch of new foods.  They kept saying, "Do you know what this is?" and if it looked like plant matter I would guess seaweed.  I was right about half the time.  Plus, they told me how to cook it (most of their advice was "it's good in miso soup!"), which was excellent.  And then, as I was leaving, they made sure I took a bag with me.  So I got a couple of days' worth of groceries and a free lunch and a bunch of really cool conversations out of the experience.  (Plus they said I'm welcome back any time, and Nakano-san said to call her if I ever have free time and want to hear a whole lot about shrines.  OH MAN, I AM SO UP FOR THIS.)

Unfortunately, having to drop groceries off at my dorm made me late to Kawahara Shrine, so by the time I got there, the ceremony in the honden had already started.  That was just as well, because shortly after I arrived I suddenly realized how completely exhausted I was and had to sit down.  Apparently my body doesn't like doing 12 hours of fieldwork in a 36 hour period on limited sleep.  HOW LAME.

The enclosure for mochi throwing had already been set up.

Along with their names, the requesters at Kawahara Shrine also wrote the addresses of their businesses (small characters on the right-hand side).

This is about 30 minutes before the event was supposed to start.  Good crowd gathering, people hanging out with their neighbors, all good stuff...

Here's the (increasingly crowded) walkway to the main shrine...

There were a lot more stands today than there were yesterday; the mochi throwing was a much bigger draw than the "pre-festival" (that's how one of the shrine workers described it) yesterday.

Ten minutes 'til things get hurled...

And here are the brave men (and women) who will be chucking things at us.

...and, go!

I managed to catch a piece of mochi this time as well, although they were significantly more dangerous than yesterday.  The mochi at Ikatsu Hachimangu were relatively soft, whereas the ones at Kawahara Shrine were about as hard as rocks.

This woman was one of the last ones with any mochi left, so everyone was crowding around her.

(I got whacked in the face and the back of the head and nearly pushed over at this point.)

Also, an old guy got into a physical fight with a little kid over a piece of mochi.  SCARY.

...everyone else is leaving, and that woman STILL has mochi.

Then everyone stormed the festival stands to buy food.

Something I forgot to mention yesterday is GUNS.  There are very strict gun laws in Japan (i.e. NO GUNS AT ALL IN THE COUNTRY), but yesterday I saw a little kid waving a gun around.  I must admit that I FREAKED OUT for about three seconds.  Then I realized that it was a model gun.  Because there are no real guns in Japan, you can make model guns as realistic as you want, I guess?  Anyway, there were a whole bunch of kids with model guns at the shrine today ('cause you could win them as prizes at several of the booths), and I kept having to remind myself that they weren't real...

Anyway, I headed over to the shrine office to say hi quickly, and upon discovering that I had only caught one mochi, they provided me with more.  So now I have more mochi than I know what to do with.  I've already offered to share it with my suitemates, so hopefully they'll take me up on the offer...

I also found out that if you microwave mochi, it explodes.

Good times.

Too tired.  Gonna crash.  Zzzzzzzz.

*Essentially a movement during the Meiji restoration to separate Buddhism and Shinto. I'll write a longer post about this at some point.

**If you have never seen a Japanese crow before, let me explain.  Japanese crows are bigger than American crows, weirdly aggressive, and when they cry, they sound like cats being murdered.  I wish I were kidding, but my blood freezes every time I hear Japanese crows.


  1. Have NASA bring some mochi back to Tech House for Stuff Not to Microwave Night!

  2. Clearly we should acquire some mochi for stuff not to microwave night!