Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend Fieldwork

This is going to be a long post, so you might want to prepare yourselves.

Because I promised to show this off a million years ago, here's my inkan (name stamp).  If someone steals it, it's like they can perfectly forge my signature.  I am protecting it with my LIFE.

Anyway, field work!

So Saturday morning I headed over to Kawahara Shrine for the sanbashi (their days-that-end-in-3-and-8-market).

Looooots of people there, parking their cars in the middle of the shrine (which took a bit of getting used to).  Of course, it turned out that there was a wedding going on simultaneously (!!), which was part of the reason why it was so crowded.

Here are some of the stalls!  There were only 11 stalls, so it wasn't outrageously big, but they offered a nice assortment of things.

One of the women was selling something that looked like a bag full of clear goo.  I asked her what it was, and she said the name, which I didn't recognize.  I asked her what it was made from, and she said seaweed.  (I should just stop asking; if I don't know what it is, it's probably made of seaweed.)  I asked her how one goes about cooking it, and she gave me this blank stare.
"Do you eat it with other foods?" I prompted her.
"No, you just eat it.  But you wouldn't be able to eat it," she replied.
Needless to say, I didn't buy any.  Bah.

...because even at a Shinto shrine you will be able to buy flowers to put on your butsudan (Buddhist household altar).  And for only 400 yen!

More stalls!  This one was selling produce, and I bought the largest and most expensive bunch of grapes I have ever laid eyes on.

There was also a seafood stall, and I think I'm going to get something from there next time, 'cause their wares were really cheap and REALLY FRESH.  The stall was run by two men and a woman, and the men were degutting the fish (which was so cool and I probably weirded them out by staring at them) as people were ordering them.  Also, they had trays of asari (my dictionary tells me that the English name is "Manila clam"), which would periodically spit water at passersby.  Like I said, REALLY FRESH.

It was so crowded that even the front of the shrine office was being used for parking.

Also, because I realized that I forgot to include a picture earlier, here's the main shrine (with a car parked in front of it).

Anyway, I went over the shrine office and chatted with the shrine workers for a few minutes to find out what time the festival next week starts (and was reminded, once again, that the festivities on Monday are scary and dangerous and sometimes people get punched; do they think this will dissuade me in any way?) and to write down my phone number on the shoddy business card I made them last time (which they've taped to a giant file; I'm somewhat intimidated) so that the guji could call me about when the meeting of female guji on the 24th is.
And then:
Shrine worker: Do you have plans for later today?
Me: Oh, no, not really.  I just have to do some reading for class.
Shrine worker: ...haven't you been asked on any dates or anything?
Guji: She probably has a boyfriend in the States.  Do you?
Me: Uh, y-yes?  He's coming to visit me for New Year's.
(This was the point at which both of their faces lit up.)
Shrine worker: Are you going to bring him here? I mean, there are lots of interesting places in Nagoya, but you are welcome to bring him here.
Guji: Oh, yes, you should bring him here!  We'll be very busy on New Year's since there are huge lines of people coming to visit, but after that...
Shrine worker: The second should be fine.
Guji: Oh, yes, the second!  You should bring him on the second.
Me: O-okay.  I will.
Guji: We'll look forward to it! I guess we'll be visiting Kawahara Shrine on the second then.
I really, really need to practice interpreting before then.  I'm so used to traveling with people who speak Japanese at the same or a higher level than me that I've never had to actually interpret for anyone before.  SO MUCH STRESS.

Anyway, they were going to have ANOTHER wedding at the point, so I went home to try Japanese grapes.


And a size comparison.

Each individual grape is slightly smaller than a ping pong ball.

I got a kind of grape called pio-ne (pronounced "pee-oh-neh") which I assume is an English/French name that I just don't recognize.  They tasted much stronger and sweeter than American grapes...and I have to say I was not blown away.  I think part of the problem is that I don't like really sweet things, and these grapes were about as sweet as grape soda or grape candy.  I've had green grapes in Japan that I really enjoyed, so it's probably a question of the variety.

Also, Japanese people don't eat the skin on their grapes (you either peel the skin off and eat it or pop it into your mouth and then spit out the skin), and I could really tell why with this bunch.  When your grapes are scaled up in size, the skin is scaled up too, which means that it's really thick and not particularly pleasant.  But I ate it anyway, because I will not waste food evereverever.  (Sae thinks I'm weird because I don't peel my potatoes before cooking them.)

Anyway, that evening I had a really exciting (which is to say outstandingly gross) experience.  Sae called me as I was doing the reading for my advisor's seminar.
Sae: What happened to the kitchen?
Me: ...what happened to the kitchen?
Sae: Here, here, you have to see this.
So Some of Our Suitemates are not particularly good about cleaning up after themselves.  This would be why there is always a mountain of dishes in the sink.  Anyway, it turned out that the mountain of dishes had been obscuring two problems: #1 when the girl on trash duty took out the burnable garbage this week and removed the netting from the drain catch (we have a little bag made of netting which makes it easier to remove junk from the drain catch), she forgot to put a new one in, and #2 Someone from Our Suite has been shoving their food scraps down into the drain catch instead of throwing them away properly.  So by the time Sae called me, the sink was clogged, the drain catch was full of rotten food, and there was a mound of dishes in the way.
Thus began one of the most disgusting experiences of my life as Sae and I had to wash all the dishes in the sink (some of which were full of food scraps which had also started to rot), clear the gelatinous goo out of the drain catch, wash the drain catch, find new netting, throw the rotten goo out, and then, because I had gotten seriously sick of the kitchen being disgusting, scrub the entire sink down, including the area below the drain catch which, thanks to the goo, had developed a beautiful black patina that smelled like rotten corpses.
YAY.  Also, since I have a stronger stomach than Sae (I was seriously concerned that she was going to throw up partway through, and I wouldn't have blamed her), I did most of the supremely gross stuff, like getting rid of mysterious black substances on the inside of the sink.

Anyway, this morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. so that I could walk to Gosha Shrine* for their yearly festival.  I got there barely in time for the start of the festivities at 8:00 a.m., although it turned out that I was one of the few people who actually showed up on time.  There were only about 20-25 people there at the beginning, and I was the youngest by at least 25 years.  I would say the average age was 65, and there were significantly more men than women.  Interestingly enough, the men and women pretty much automatically divided themselves, and (with very few exceptions) men stood on the right and women stood on the left for the entire ceremony.
The guji (who is a woman) said a norito and then purified the building everyone was standing in, the shrine workers, and then the assembled crowd.  Then she offered a variety of different foods to the main kami of the shrine; the offerings were carried to her on trays by various representatives of the local ujiko.  Then there was an offering of kagura (the shrine dance done with suzu) by the miko; their suzu had what looked like knives attached to the top of the ring of bells.  And then there was a song by a young woman.  For both the kagura and the song, they played prerecorded music over two speakers which had been set up, and the song was miked.  It was a very different experience than with live music, and kind of disconcerting when it turned out that the soundtrack for the song had a choir in the second half.  Technology at work!
At this point, the guji had a variety of people who were representing different groups come forward and offer a sakaki branch to the kami, and then the members of each group went through the prayer routine together.**  She even asked a representative for the People Who Don't Have a Group Group to come forward, which I thought was really nice.

After that point, the opening ceremony was over (the entire thing took a little less than 40 minutes), and everyone dispersed to start getting ready for the rest of the day's festivities.

At this point, I ran into a really nice young Japanese couple who had just moved to the area and had come to check out the festival.  We chatted for a while, and they inevitably asked how many years I've been living in Japan for.  It almost feels like cheating to say I've only been in Nagoya for three weeks.  And then they said that my intonation sounds like a native speaker's...  At least that's one thing I have on my side.  Hurrah for studying less when I actually know what I'm talking about?
Then they asked how many religions there were in San Francisco, and the best answer I could come up with was "a lot."

Here are some people setting up the food stands.

See the huge pot?  A bunch of women brought garbage bags full of pork-vegetable-other-stuff soup and they were cooking it in the giant pot.  It smelled SO GOOD.

Then there was a taiko exhibition.

This is actually the first time I've seen taiko performed while sitting.  Huh.

This guy was doing a bunch of crazy twirling tricks with his drumsticks while playing.

...and here they are again.

Then the guji called together all the people who would be participating in the parade later that day to purify them (since none of them had been there during the first purification).

There was then an exhibition of dance by a bunch of women, but I couldn't get any good pictures, so IMAGINE IT IN YOUR MINDS.  (Or just scroll down.  There are pictures of them later.)

Then a bunch of kids did a dance which involved pantomiming pulling a rope and pushing objects?

Apparently there were three students from a college club that taught all the dances and volunteered their time to come out today.  The little kids swarmed them and used them as jungle gyms, as little kids are wont to do.

Here they are again.

At this point there was a lot of kid wrangling and adult wrangling and general people wrangling to get people ready for the parade.

This is a shishi.  It's sort of like the Japanese equivalent of the lions you see in Chinese New Year parades.

One of the older gentlemen who was marching with the parade then came over and asked in English if I needed help.  Apparently he thought I was lost, and had somehow wandered onto the shrine grounds.  I explained why I was there and we started chatting.  He said that his son was a professor at "yukla" in Los Angeles, and it took me a second to figure out that he meant UCLA.

At this point, the mikoshi*** was hoisted and the parade started!

The parade passing the entrance to the shrine.

Needless to say, the parade caused a bit of a stir, since it was marching right through a shopping district.  Most of the reactions from bystanders were friendly, though, and a few even joined the parade to have a quick chat with a friend who was already marching.

Break #1!

Given the length of the parade (the first estimate was 2 1/2 hours, although it turned out to only be about 2), there had been various rest stops arranged along the well as bathroom stops.  Before the parade started, one of the women rattled off a list of a dozen shops which had agreed to serve as emergency bathroom stations, if need be.
Also, everyone who was marching with the parade (including the bystanders) was given tea at this point.  Hurray for fighting dehydration!

Here's the group of dancing women.  They were having some technical problems, as you can probably tell.  And, yes, she is using an iPod.

Also, that's the mikoshi in the background.

They finally got their music situation worked out; I believe one of the shopkeepers from the neighborhood lent them a cordless boombox.

One of these things is not like the others~

The women dragged the guy into dancing, because apparently he was dancing on the sidelines (I couldn't actually see).  He was a very good dancer, and more than a few of the women were glancing over at him to remember the next step.

And then the kids danced again.

More dancing kids...

And then we set off again!

The people with the yellow flags were acting as traffic guards, making sure that everyone stayed far enough to one side that bicycles and other pedestrains could get past.

Resting place #2, and women dancing again!  They didn't even have to ask the guy to join them this time.

...then some of the kids joined in the dance...

One of the kids managed to knock over the boombox they were using, but, fortunately (?), it hit ground right as the song ended.

More kids dancing!

(This was the point at which I think I scared the bejeebers out of some poor baby, because she was toddling around and nearly ran into me.  I said hi and she ran to hide behind her mom.  OUCH.)

This has now become the CHILDREN DANCING BLOG.

(The girl wearing yellow is one of the college students who was helping out.)

And then we headed back to the shrine!

Here's the parade, coming back to find the festival in full swing.

The gentleman I had been chatting with asked if I had any tickets, and I said no, and he said to wait right there.  He came back with some tickets and said they were a gift since I was studying, and I refused about six times but he was adamant; I WAS GOING TO TAKE THE TICKETS WHETHER I LIKED IT OR NOT. So I thanked him profusely and he looked at me like I was weird.  Yeah, it's 250 yen to you, but PRETTY AWESOME FOR ME.

Anyway, it turned out that one of the tickets was for lottery, with amazing prizes such as...

...plastic wrap, tissues, and toilet paper.

Oh, Japan.

I got a box of tissues.  It was pretty epic.

The other tickets were for food so I got this thing which was a fried egg slathered in okonomiyaki sauce and mayonaisse and dried seaweed flakes squished between two orange-ish crackers that had black sesame seeds in them (it was really tasty despite how it sounds), some of the soup they had been boiling for the last four hours (also really tasty), and some dango (also really tasty).

There were a lot of people there!

There was also super ball fishing for the kids.  Basically, for 100 yen you can buy a little hoop with paper on the inside, and you try to scoop out as many balls as you can before the paper gets too wet and breaks.

There was also a magician there to perform for the kids.

Needless to say, the festival got less and less formal as it progressed.  At the beginning it was a very formal ceremony, and then the parade was relatively formal, although it started getting less formal near the end as the kids started acting up and the people marching dropped out of line to talk to friends, and by the time the parade returned to the shrine, it had basically become a street fair that was being held on the precincts of a shrine (although some of the people did stop by the smaller shrines to pay their respects to the kami in between socializing, keeping their children from hurling themselves off conveniently tall objects, and eating delicious food).  It'll be interesting to see if the same holds true of other festivals

At this point the gentleman I had been chatting with had to leave, and I thanked him again and thrust one of my hand-made business cards on him.

And then I screwed up my courage and went to talk to the guji, and she gave me her business card and said that she'd be happy to talk to me.  I just have to email her and set up a time.  She also said that this is the first year they've done the festival this way; normally they have about 200 children (and the children carry the mikoshi), whereas this year they only have 100 children.  (She said next year they'll have 300 children, though, so I'll have to ask about that when I go back.)  She also said that all the children come from elementary schools contained within the area the kami protects.

Anyway, then I realized that I had been at the festival for 5 1/2 hours and things were winding down anyway, so I went home and sat down for a very, very long time.  Sitting feels nice after you've been on your feet for so long.


I'm visiting yet another festival tomorrow, so I'll just be off for some dinner and quiet reading now...


**There are a variety of ways to pray, but the generally accepted one is as follows:
Two bows
Two claps, but clap with your left hand slightly in front of your right
Realign your hands (this is your chance to pray for half a second)
One bow

***A mikoshi is a special palanquin that's used in festivals.  Generally, the kami is called down and bound to a special object which is placed in the mikoshi and then paraded around the district to reinforce the kami's protection for the district residents.  For a fascinating account of a mikoshi-like object actually being used to enact social justice, check out Scott Schnell's The Rousing Drum.  Long story short, people were angry at the police and Somehow We Don't Know How the kami willed them to smash a giant drum into the police station like a battering ram.  Multiple times.  You know how those disgruntled kami are.

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