Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hojo Matsuri


On the first evening, it was looking a lot like rain. As the sun went down, it backlit the Takanawa Shrine flags. The flags creak like sails in the wind.

The activities of Saturday night were essentially the same as Sunday night, so I won't bother going into them in detail -- needless to say though, there was beer, noise, exertion and shouting.


The morning started in Takanawa Shrine following a breakfast of beer and custard-filled bread. The dancing dragon-lion thing was finally tamed in the traditional method with a couple of shots to the head from a musket, whereupon it could be led about quietly.

An exceptionally heavy omikoshi was bounced around the shrine grounds. This monster is an old portable shrine from the days when our area had a bigger, younger population that could bear the weight.

View from the shrine gate

Looks like a question of too much beer too early

After the diabolical entertainments in the shrine, it's time to wheel the danjiri up and down the street. I'm wearing my new black koikuchi pyjamas which my neighbour kindly brought to my house from his workman's clothing shop.

Shortly after this picture was taken, I ducked aside to avoid the corner of a portable shrine that was making straight for my head. Whereupon I experienced an intense crushing, burning sensation that I couldn't quite place. Then I realized that the danjiri had run right over my foot. No harm done, but gosh, your fully laden danjiri is a very heavy thing.

Not that omikoshi are light either. The one that missed me was laden with a young father clutching his baby daughter who was dressed in full festival fig of course.

The sun rises over Takanawa-san in the background

A young lady in boots appeared to watch the danjiri, but she wasn't left in peace for long. A farmer promptly gave her his happi jacket and recruited her to grab a pole. Now as I understand it, for safety reasons, nobody is allowed to ride or manipulate the danjiri unless they're wearing tabi, but it seems exceptions can be made under special circumstances.

When I declared that the little girls looked like a herd of some species of animal, there was a strong and mutinous reaction, but when I showed them this photo, it turned to general agreement.

The morning bash ended and I went home to brush my teeth, weed my garden and gird my loins for the second evening's session.

Now the evening session is quite a business. All of the danjiri from the local districts gather on a wide stretch of road and are pushed together side-by-side in rows of six. While the young folk ride on the danjiri, hammering on bells, thrashing drums, blowing whistles and waving batons, their ageing parents push on the poles like galley slaves. Some of the older folk, myself included, like to yell 'Yoi-sa!" in time at the top of their lungs until they're hoarse. Then they like to croak impolitely at the womenfolk for beer.

Local teenage girls who normally drift by unnoticed in school uniforms suddenly appear in full make-up with earrings and big smiles.

After the evening bash, there was a solemn ceremony in Takanawa Shrine to invite the god down into the portable god-box. However the solemnity was broken by a series of loud farting noises from the assembled kneeling children. It was hard to tell if the noises were real or feigned, but nevertheless they produced uncontrollable giggles. The adults did their best to suppress the hilarity by saying things like "If you keep that up you'll really shit yourself" and "Cor, that was a nasty one". It seems as though the Shinto aspect of the festival is not treated with great respect by all parties, and at one point I noticed that the younger kaminushi or 'god master' was getting seriously riled by his parishioner's lack of piety.

The little ones were not still for long

The next morning, Monday, we were up at a leisurely 7:30 for a breakfast of beer, sake, and horrible little dried fish at the shrine. The sake tasted pretty good as a change after all the beer. We set off from the shrine singing the shrine-carrying song, a nice call and response ditty which extols the virtues of our region. I have the melody down better than most of my neighbours and received some joshing about stealing the limelight -- "Roddo bakkashi yan".

The region is certainly worthy of songs of praise

We carried the shrine here and there to different people's houses and were treated to more beer and some rather good snacks.

Farmers, men of industry, and salesmen

The view from the roof of the wedding hall

More stops, more beer

Of course, after three days of drinking beer from dawn till dark, hauling danjiri and omikoshi along flag adorned streets, these heavy articles have to be disassembled and put away carefully in storage for next year. This can seem a bit of a fag. A pleasant meal and more beer is served after the work is done.

The last picture is one I took on my way home on Monday evening. Like the strips of land, I felt like I was suspended in space, and my thoughts, such as they were, mirrored the wispy clouds. Home, to an early bed.


It appears that the shock of getting up on Tuesday and not drinking several bottles of beer before 7 am has undermined my constitution. I have a terrible cold and my hips don't seem to be functioning properly at all.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Festival preparations

Next week we have our festival, Insh'Allah. And so today, in spite of it being Sunday, I rose at 7:30 to join my neighbours at 8 for the 'michizukuri' or 'roadmaking'. This is a jolly business of going along all the roads pulling up weeds, trimming the verges with weedwhackers, and setting fire to the banks of dams. It's also a good chance to shoot the breeze with one's neighbours, most of whom have lived here all their lives and offer some interesting descriptions of how things used to be. Now that most pathways are paved with poured concrete, the literal meaning of 'michizukuri' has largely vanished, and the petrol-driven weedwhacker has also made things a lot easier, if a lot more noisy.

Women sheltering in the shade of a shed. It was hot.
I wonder what they talk about together.

One bloke who farms was showing me where a wild boar had entered a rice paddy and knocked down a lot of stalks. As we walked, I failed to notice the dip by which the farm equipment enters the paddy, twisted my ankle, and nearly ended up in the paddy myself. It didn't hurt at the time, but now it does. I obviously haven't been here long enough, because nobody laughed at me.

Moonlit shrine on Friday night.
The boys were practising their Drum n' Bell while the girls
were pasting 3,000 little flags on bamboo twigs to decorate the

In the afternoon, it was time to put together the 'danjiri', or what might I suppose be called a 'juggernaut'. This involves getting enormous wooden poles from inconspicuous storage next to the shrine, and various parts from the storeroom adjoining the village hall. Also, bamboo is cut from the mountain to make fenders for the main unit. These bits and pieces are all tied together with ropes which are pulled and hammered tight until they feel like steel.

Roping up the poles to the body of the danjiri.
Lots of headscratching about the method of winding.

Putting the cross-braces on. Everything wound and hammered.

Putting on the bamboo fenders.

All wrapped up against the typhoon expected tomorrow

The Japanese passion for 'monozukuri', or 'making things' is apparent in the collective care that goes into making a good, safe danjiri (English monozukuri also made itself apparent in a rather fanatical zeal to take the sharp edges off the cut bamboo with a lathe, since this alone is something one knows how to do...).

Jaboticaba flowers

The Jaboticaba didn't do very well during the two months when it didn't rain. It gradually shed its leaves and took on a sad, strained look. I watered it every few days, but I forgot what I'd read about it liking heavy irrigation. However, with the first decent fall of autumn rain, lo! it put forth lots of little white flowers, all over its branches in that thoroughly weird way it has.

The little white flowers that bloomed a few days ago have turned into little green fruit. We'll be watching their development with the most intense interest.

In my joy to see flowers, I put my bee suit on and grabbed my cotton bud to ensure that all the flowers got properly pollinated in the absence of real bees. However, as I buzzed between flowers, I noticed that ants were going between the flowers and I also nearly bludgeoned a hover fly that was taking darting flights at each flower. It appears that hover flies also pollinate the goji bushes (amongst other pollinators) and they seem to play a role similar to that of the largely absent bee -- they're present throughout the whole spring and summer whereas bees only appear to be active in the early spring.

Ground cover spreading

What I like about ground cover is the way that it covers the ground. That is, it covers the ground if the ground has been prepared carefully by digging and the addition of organic material. Also if it's watered every night laboriously with a watering can, and when the rainwater runs out, with a hose, for the nearly two months when it didn't rain. However, it's nice to see it spreading out, and it's also nice to see how it stops all the topsoil being washed away when it eventually rains. It's also convenient to be able to dump spadefulls of compost on it when the compost piles get out of hand. Thanks to the ground cover, there's now a thin layer of dark, absorbent soil taking shape on top of the clay.