I kind of had the Best Day Ever yesterday.
Unrelated to the Best Day Ever: Steven returned to the States yesterday, which means that we're down to eight Fellows remaining in Japan. It's a little scary to think that I'll be the next person to leave. Oh noooooooooooo.
Okay, now the actual Best Day Ever:
So I spent the morning slaving over my paper, which is now longer than I feel comfortable admitting. It's also still not done, because I am insane. But it's getting there! I really only have to finish writing/organizing the interpersonal relationships section and write the introduction and conclusion and then do some smoothing out in the middle and I am DONE.
In the afternoon I headed over to Kawahara Shrine for the second day of their summer festival!
Everyone had been freaking out the previous day, because the weather forecast called for ~OMINOUS THUNDERSTORMS~, but it actually didn't even rain! It sprinkled a little bit at one point, but otherwise it just stayed grossly hot and muggy.
Anyway, the moment I arrived I was spotted by a couple of the soudai who were chilling under the tent that had been set up (they were in charge of selling the offerings for the festival) and they called me over to chill with them. As it turns out, chilling with soudai is a much easier way to people-watch than hovering awkwardly! The more you know!
There was a special ceremony occurring at one of the auxiliary shrines at 4, but before that all the soudai gathered to take a picture and I got dragged into it because apparently I hang around the shrine enough that I count as...something having to do with the shrine?
After that everyone lined up to walk around the grass-loop and then walked over to the auxiliary shrine for the ceremony. It was potentially the most cramped ceremony ever, 'cause there were roughly forty people trying to stuff themselves into a space that could comfortably hold maybe five people. But nobody was crushed, so all was well.
After the ceremony, everybody was chilling under the tent again and drinking tea and talking about various things. Then Yamauchi-san (who works in the shrine office) came up and said, "Hey, Dana, do you want to try on miko clothes? 'cause all the other foreign students got to."*
And I said, "...sure?"
So then I got dressed up as a miko.
FOR THE RECORD, miko hakama are more like a skirt than pants! Also, if you tie hakama correctly, you will not be able to bend your back easily.
So, yeah, I got to dress up as a miko! It was pretty exciting!
And then I was chilling in the shrine office and talking to various people about various things while Yamauchi-san and Itou-san whispered together a bunch.
And then Yamauchi-san was like, "WEEEEEELL, as long as you're dressed properly...want to help out? We'll pay you in dinner."
And I was like, "YUS, FREE FOOD."
So I got to sit at the window of the shrine office and make shide** and I told a guy where the toilet was when he asked. (...I don't spend too much time at the shrine.) Oh, and a bunch of the soudai did a double-take when they walked past, 'cause they were like, "Oh, hey, we need [whatever]" and then they were like, "....waaaaaaait a second."
(Needless to say, everyone else in the shrine office was terribly amused by all of this.)
So then I got free dinner! Which was delicious bento. And I got to talk to the musicians who were performing! And I had a lovely conversation with Itou-san, because all my conversations with Itou-san are lovely.
So then we were done with dinner and Itou-san said, "...so the other miko need to eat dinner... Do you want to take their place doing suzubarai? 'cause we don't really have anyone else to spare..."
So I wound up doing suzubarai???***
Suzubarai, for anyone who doesn't speak Shinto-ese, is a purification using a bell-stick and a fan. It is...not actually that hard to do! I even learned how to give directions to people with the correct level of politeness. (ようこうそお参りくださいました！)
So, anyway, Yamauchi-san and I did suzubarai for a while, and then Itou-san took over for Yamauchi-san.
As it turns out, the draw of getting suzubarai from the head priest and a random gaijin is pretty strong! We had SO MANY PEOPLE coming for suzubarai.
Perhaps the best moment, though, was when this little boy (he was probably about 4) and his mom came to ask us for suzubarai. We did it, and when we finished:
Mom: It's very unusual to see a head priest doing suzubarai!
Itou-san: Yes, this is a one night-only special. You get suzubarai from the head priest and a one night-only miko! (to the little boy) Where do you think she [meaning me] is from?
Little boy: AMERICA.
Me: Yes, I'm American.
Little boy: I CAN TELL FROM HER FACE.
Mom: (pretty obviously confused) Oh, is she...doing...some sort of...self-purification???
Itou-san: No, she's just studying Shinto. She's going to Harvard in the fall!
Itou-san: (to the little boy) Since you got suzubarai from her, that means you can go to Harvard too!
Little boy: O.O
Mom: Wow, it's so unusual to have a foreigner studying Shinto.
Itou-san: Yes, she knows a lot about things having to do with shrines.
Little boy: I KNOW A LOT ABOUT CARS.
...so then he started telling us all the things he knew about cars until his mum had to drag him away...
...but he came back later in the evening...
Itou-san: Yes? Did you want suzubarai again?
Little boy: YES.
Little boy: But I want it from HER.
Little boy: SO I CAN GO TO HARVARD.
So I did suzubarai for him, and then he ran away and then ran back and then waved at me and then ran away again.
Then the other miko came back from dinner and took over, so I got sent to the honden to stamp people's heads. It was EXCITING. Some of the children were terrified of the stamps, possibly because they thought they were shots? And then there were a bunch of people who wanted to know if the ink was permanent, because they didn't want to go into work the next day with a red circle on their foreheads.
Also, there were a lot of people who wanted stamps from the gaijin miko.
(Although there were also people who didn't realize I was gaijin. Or at least not at first. Some of them would get a stamp and get halfway out of the honden before stopping and backtracking to stare at me.)
Anyway, it was kiiiiind of amazing! And I got to see a lot of bits of festivals that I wouldn't normally and it turns out that it's way easier to observe people when you're working (you turn into FURNITURE**** and no one looks at you twice until they have to interact with you) than when you are hovering awkwardly!
By the way, here are some pictures:
Outside the honden!
Inside the honden with some of the head-stamping soudai!
In the shrine office!
I'd like to the note that I was the only miko who had long enough hair to wear the hair decorations properly without having to wear a wig/hair extensions.
(I'd also like to note that I am holding my hands in the correct position in every picture LIKE A PRO.)
Itou-san also took a bunch more pictures, which she said she'd give to me the next time I visit. So...look forward to that?
Anyway, after that the festival was winding down so everyone got dressed in street clothes and ran around turning off lights and locking up buildings and trying to find missing bicycle keys for kids (you would not believe how many kids came to the shrine office saying they had lost their bicycle keys). And then Itou-san drove me home, because "I wouldn't let you walk home in the dark if you were my daughter."
So, all in all, a pretty fantastic day!
And right now we are having an incredibly intense rain/lightning/thunder/even more rain storm. YAY, RAIN.
...and now I have hiccups. Boo, hiccups.
Right-o, off to bed for me.
*There was a day when all the other girls from the dorm went to Kawahara Shrine to observe a wedding and then got dressed up as miko afterwards, but I had another commitment that day so I couldn't go.
**Those little zigzag paper ornaments that you see everywhere at shrines.
***Ultimate full circle moment: A little more than a year ago I was in the Tech House kitchen having a discussion about miko and Fulbright scholars that WOUND UP ON THE TECH HOUSE QUOTES PAGE, but, anyway, I was saying that I was actually eligible to be a miko but would never get picked. OH, HOW WRONG I WAS.
****I just had really weird Umineko flashbacks.