Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day, also known as Wednesday

Hey, everyone.  Long time no write, I guess.  I've been working on my paper, which has sort of consumed my every waking moment, and is now 42 pages long, SO.  That is where I have been.

Other stuff I've been up to!


(The black characters are mine.  The orange characters are Nakano-san's corrections.  At least...not the entire sheet is orange?)

This is a non-corrected sheet.  As long as you don't look at the first character, it's probably okay!

...and here's what Nakano-san gave me right before class ended.  Oh noooooooo.
I really like brush pens, though!  I feel like I should get one before I leave...

In other news, on Friday, in my religious history class, I got to use my crazy awesome English skills to help my group read a section of the US constitution.  I basically had to translate almost every word, because "grievances" and "redress" aren't exactly common English vocabulary.  Oh well, in the end everyone had a pretty okay grasp of what was being said.

Today was Independence Day, also known in Japan as Wednesday, July 4.  My day was not completely devoid of excitement, however, as Kawahara Shrine is having their summer festival today and tomorrow.

The festival is called Akamaru no Shinji, which means "Red Circle Festival."  You'll see why in a second!

Anyway, I headed over mid-afternoon, to find a million food stands already set up:

This ring is the main part of the festival!

So, basically, you're supposed to walk through the ring, first around the left side counterclockwise, then around the right side clockwise, and then around the left side clockwise again.  Then you go inside the honden, leave a monetary offering, pray, and then get your forehead stamped with a little red circle.  This is supposed to protect you from the "summer shadow," which is a polite way of saying the plague!  (Historically, plague outbreaks tended to occur in summer in Japan, so summer is seen as a season of illness.)

One of the stories behind this practice is that one time Susanoo was traveling and he came to a town to stop for the night.  Nobody in the town would give him lodging, even though they had space, except for the poorest family in town, who had the world's worst futon.  Susanoo stayed with them and slept on the world's worst futon.
A couple of years later, Susanoo showed up again!  And he said, "Hey, guys, remember how you let me sleep on your really lousy futon?  Well, you should go take some grass and knot it into a loop around your waist.  Trust me on this."
So the family did as Susanoo said.  And the next day...EVERYONE ELSE IN THE TOWN DIED.
The end!
(Well, actually there's a little extra bit where that family and their descendants can protect themselves from the plague by knotting grass loops around their waists and announcing that they belong to that family.  But the important bit here is that if you refuse to let Susanoo sleep over, you will suddenly drop dead.)

Anyway, as I was taking pictures, I was hailed incredibly energetically by Itou-san and then kidnapped into the shrine office where I was fed delicious onigiri and given tea and had a bunch of really interesting conversations with various people who were helping out at the festival!  I love it when people give me great quotes that just prove the points I'm trying to make.  (One of today's great quotes was, "We come to the shrine because we like the guuji [the head priest, which is to say Itou-san].  If the guuji was terrible, nobody would come!"  Adding to essay now.)  Also, I met the most energetic 80-year-old woman EVER.  She was really cool and gave me a bunch more onigiri because I am too skinny and nobody else was eating them.

Also, Itou-san gave me a massively cool book.  It's bilingual (Japanese and English) and explains and defines a bunch of terms/ideas in a variety of Japanese religions.  I already know most of the terms in the Shinto section, but it has a huge section on Buddhism and a huge section on folk religion, which is pretty darn awesome.  Also, since it's bilingual, it's a good way for me to practice my Japanese.  So, yes, that was awesome.  And I was very happy and thanked her profusely.  (Also, one of the women from the shrine office saw the book and has now determined that she wants to get her hands on a copy.  It is THAT COOL.)

Meanwhile, there was still a festival going on!

Here are some of the food stands...

(The stand to the far right is actually a shooting arcade game sort of.  You shoot at piled up stuff with an air gun and then get to keep whatever you knock down.)

The miko were doing short purification ceremonies for anyone who came up.  It's hard to tell from this picture, but they're holding fans in one hand and their bell-sticks in the other.

(That's Itou-san waaaay in the background in the green pants.)

Anyway, then Itou-san stole my camera so she could sneakily take pictures of me completing the Akamaru no Shinji.  FOR SCIENCE.

Walking round in circles...  (You can probably tell how incredibly focused I was on this.)

And inside the honden...

And praying...

And getting a forehead stamp!

Forehead stamped, LIKE A PRO.
(It should be noted that I walked home like that and kept seeing other people with forehead stamps.   Hurrah!)

So now I won't get plague!  YUS.

It had kind of started raining by this point, which wasn't particularly cool!  Everyone was rushing to put plastic bags over the non-waterproof lanterns.

Some of the soudai lit all the lanterns...with actual lighters!  No electric lanterns here!

One of the great things about summer festivals is SO MANY KIDS IN ADORABLE YUKATA.  There was a little boy in a Pokemon yukata.

So, yeah!  I hung around a little bit longer, talked to some more people, saw some more adorable children in yukata, and then proceeded to get rained on a bunch, at which point I decided that it would probably be a good idea for me to start heading home.  So I did.

And now I am back.

And staring at my essay.


Anyway, happy Independence Day to all of you in the States, and happy Wednesday to everyone else!

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