Prepare for one heck of an update, because I had one heck of an adventure.
So Thursday afternoon I met up with Ton-chan, and her friend (and our driver), Gakkun. We started out from Nanzan to The Middle of Nowhere, Nagano, which took a little more than 4 hours. It should be noted, though, that we stopped to get omiki (お神酒; basically sake that is offered at a festival) and also to grab food and use the bathroom. The omiki was actually kind of fun, because we went into a department store and wanted to get something that was "signature Nagoya" without being too expensive. We settled for a bottle of Dragon Sake (the Dragons are the Nagoya baseball team), which was decorated with a picture of the Dragons dragon and also was incredibly cheap. It also looked mildly sketchy, but, hey, I know nothing about drinking wine, and as Gakkun pointed out, we're students, so they should understand. We then went to get it wrapped properly at the service counter, where we ran into the first rude employee I have met in Japan! It was kind of bizarre. She just seemed incredibly ticked off that we were daring to ask for a service that the store offered for free. Awkward. Then it took 10 minutes to wrap a bottle of sake? Hmm.
So after that, we drove a whole bunch through the mountains and then a bunch more through the mountains and then a bunch more through the mountains and Ton-chan started getting carsick... Fortunately, she had brought anti-carsickness medicine.
In other news, I know how to say "carsick" in Japanese. (It's 車酔い. Which is awkward, because the kanji is literally "car drunk.")
Did I mention mountains?
IT WAS COLD. And there was one heck of a wind blowing. Thus us looking like we're going to fly off of the mountain.
So then we drove through EVEN MORE MOUNTAINS and watched the temperature steadily drop. And then I got really, really carsick for about the last hour of the trip and was generally miserable until Ton-chan gave me some gum, and that really helped. Yay for gum!
So after a few close encounters with deer and some exciting conversations about ghosts, we arrived at our hotel*, dropped off our stuff, and then headed over to the shrine where the festival was being held.
As it turned out, Gakkun and Ton-chan had conducted in-depth fieldwork (with a class) in the town two years previously, and so they knew a whole bunch of people there. Thus, we arrived and were immediately commanded to EAT THINGS. There was SO MUCH good food. The only bad thing about it was that there was no heating in the building, so the food would get cold pretty much the second it hit the table. It still tasted good, though.
Also, a whole bunch of little old ladies decided that Gakkun needed to eat more, and spent much of the meal telling him to eat more. It probably didn't help that he was trying to figure out how to work an incredibly humongous video camera. Apparently his teacher, upon hearing that he was going to the festival, lent him the camera and told him to shoot as much of the festival as possible. Unfortunately, the teacher didn't bother to lend him the instruction manual, so it took about 30 minutes of finagling to figure out how to even load tapes into the thing. And the whole time there was a chorus of little old ladies saying, "Gakkun, aren't you going to eat that? Gakkun, you should have some of the onigiri. Gakkun, aren't you hungry? Gakkun, you should take more tempura than that."
So the festival had been going on since very (very, very, very) early that morning, but we started watching at about 7-ish.
When there were a bunch of middle schoolers doing a dance with swords. WHOO.
That thing in the middle of the room is a pot full of boiling water. It is the most important prop in the entire festival.
Then these men came to perform a purification (by dipping their sticks into the boiling water and then flicking them so boiling water landed on the floor) and purify EVERY SINGLE SHRINE IN JAPAN.
It was quite a long process.
Also, the not-pure-white over-gowns are made of old banners from the shrine!
A lot of people came to pray while the ceremony was going on.
One of the guys had a list of all the shrines they had to purify, so he went around the circle reading the names off to each person individually, and then they would repeat the name and perform the purification.
Also, then they called every single kami (八百万の神々) to the shrine.
That also took a long time.**
Here is Gakkun, with his HUMONGOUS video camera.
Then a bunch of adults came and did a sword dance.
It was a very special occasion, because there were a father and son duo participating together. (Father is in front on the right, son is directly across from him.)
The guy on the front left who looks like he's crying was being blinded by the smoke every time he went past. Poor guy.
Small children mobbing the bell!
Everything is more exciting with NAKED STEEL.
This guy was chanting something (it was really loud in there and I couldn't hear) as they were doing the sword dance.
And then these guys came back out and named a whole bunch MORE shrines, which took A REALLY LONG TIME.
And then came the main attraction, the mask dances.
Here they are prepping the first mask dancer...
And he is revealed!
The audience went crazy at this point.
So then he circled the pot of boiling water a whole bunch as the crowd heckled him. He would put his hands out over the pot and then pull them back in, and everyone would yell, "WEAK! YOU CAN DO BETTER!"
So then he stuck his hands in and there were still people heckling him, so...
He flung boiling water at the audience.
I seem to get things thrown at me at festivals a whole lot.
Here come more mask dancers!
Because the eye holes are INCREDIBLY SMALL, there were people guiding them around obstacles and the giant fire in the middle of the floor.
Each mask dancer carries himself differently and walks differently to indicate the different kami.
Oh wait, you mean that they're calling all the kami in Japan to a place where they are purified in hot water, and the kami wear masks? HMMMMMM.
This guy is the crow, and he gets to fly. Which is a pun, because Japanese is all about puns. In Japanese, the word for "to fly" and "to jump" are the same, so when the crow "flies" he essentially throws himself into the audience, and they hold him up.
It's like stage diving, but without a stage.
Needless to say, it's dangerous.
This is the grandma.
She goes around with her bunch-of-leaves-feather-duster-like-thing and runs it over everyone to bless them.
Also, she's a man.
...and then she goes crazy and starts throwing boiling water at people and dipping her bunch-of-leaves into the pot of water and beating people with it.
Yes, actually beating them.
Because no festival is complete without a man dressed as a woman beating people with a feather duster made out of leaves that has been dipped in boiling water.
So then the grandpa shows up and the priest (not a real priest, played by the guy on the right) basically tells the grandpa that he needs to get his wife home so she stops beating people up.
There were a whole lot of other masks (about forty total), but my camera, being lame, was running out of battery, so I didn't take pictures of them.
This is the most famous mask, the monkey.
He dances for about thirty minutes getting more and more tired as everyone shouts, "You can do it, monkey! Just one more time!"
This guy's stamina was amazing. I probably would have died.
So after that there was another purification ceremony in which the kami were sent home, which took about an hour and a half. We watched the first forty-five minutes or so, but then Ton-chan and I couldn't feel our feet any more, so we retreated to the kotatsu in the other room*** and chatted with the other people who couldn't feel their feet any more.
The ceremony finally ended at 1 a.m., but then they were going to eat naorai (the feast after the ceremony), but we decided that we should probably head back to the hotel, since we had to get up early in the morning.
Futons = THE BEST.
So this morning we woke up to discover that it was snowing, which was exciting. We had breakfast at the hotel (it was a really good breakfast) and then made the long drive back to Nagoya. I fell asleep for a good chunk of it.
This evening I went to a lecture at the Nanzan Institute for Religious Studies. Or, it was supposed to be a lecture, but it turned out to be more like a let's-read-our-reviews-of-this-guy's-book-out-loud-and-then-interrogate-him-on-his-vocabulary-choices thing. It was...kind of strange, and being exhausted and sleep deprived really did not help my comprehension. So, yeah.
I'm completely exhausted, so I'm going to call it a night now.
*We stayed at a 民宿, which was sort of like a smaller, not as classy 旅館 (ryokan; Japanese style hotel).
**So, to be fair, they did not actually name every single shrine or every single kami, because that would take A REALLY LONG TIME. If you take 八百万 (8,000,000) as a literal number instead of just a term meaning "a whole lot" or "infinitely many" and then assume you can say four names a second...well, do the math.
***If you don't know what a kotatsu is, it's a sort of table covered in a blanket with a heater underneath. It is basically the best.