Last year, Aki Matsuri came to me. This year, since it was on a Saturday (October 16th), I went to Aki Matsuri. I biked there, in fact (which later enabled me to bike to small elementary, etc.)!
Seeing the festival on the shrine grounds was a lot of fun. There were the usual festival food booths, and it was overrun with my kids, many of whom were wearing street clothes which to me make them look totally weird but also reveal their personalities, maybe?
On my little trips around the area accompanying and “translating” for our sister-city visitor, we got to see the red yattai, or mikoshi (portable shrine) in storage, with all the parts disassembled and laid out. It was awesome to get up close to the thing and really look at the intricacy of the woodcarving, metalwork, and stitching that went into it, among other things. The principal said it cost 2-sen-man which I had trouble converting into numbers I could understand.
That comes to $200,000, if the yen were still 100 to 1 on a dollar, which it is not (still bottoming out at like 80.5? As soon as I get my next paycheck, I’m cashing in..!)..
Another bit of information I would like to add is something I learned from Osaki-san at Japanese class. I might be getting some of this wrong, since I get my information from a conversation held entirely in Japanese after a sumptuous meal (as she always prepares) at 8:30 pm which meant I was just full, sleepy, and unreliable as a reporter. Still and all:
When I arrived at Iwa shrine at about 1pm, there were four yattai on the grounds, three doing their thing, one resting. From northmost, red, yellow, pink, and green. I saw a mom I knew and she explained that this year’s leader was green (last year was red; they rotate). Just for reference, my school is actually located closest to the yellow area.
Watched them for a bit, until after the priests (?) brought out a special portable shrine I hadn’t seen before, and all the yattai left the area (I thought they were just going round the neighborhood, like when they went up to my school last year, but I think they went down to the river, which I’m sorry to have missed) then wandered along the row of food stalls out toward the road. Blue was out in the michi-no-eki (road version of a train station..?) parking lot doing their maneuvers.
Then, all five neighborhood-color-coded portable shrines went into the shrine area and did their rocking and rolling.
So anyway, Osaki-san asked me, did the blue team go into the shrine grounds for the festival, and I told her, yes, they were last, but eventually, they did. Then she told me that historically, they were barred from doing so, and in fact, that southmost area of town (down by the river) was not included in the festival in bygone days. Around the Edo period I think, that area built their own shrine and their own yattai too, partly because they were excluded from Iwa.
But why, you may wonder, were they excluded? Was it religious differences? No.. they were all shrine-goin’ Shinto temple-goin’ Buddhist hybrids even then. Racial issues? No.. Japan is amazingly homogenous, racially speaking, even now.
In fact, if I am understanding this right, the whole reason the town was looking down on those people livin’ down by the river is because.. they needed someone to look down on. Which is of course the reason any group gets pushed under.. every group needs someone to feel bigger/better than. But this was so startlingly arbitrary to me. She said, they made them do the jobs no one wanted to do (but it might have been that they already did the dirty jobs, and this was the grounds for their exclusion?) It sounded a bit like low-caste positions in Hindu society, anyway. Osaki-san explained the old system of lords and warriors, then farmers, then merchants and tradesmen… and then the bottom of the heap.
Out here in the countryside especially, people surprise me by how close they are to very deep roots. In the US, most people are not only of mixed heritage, but almost no one I know lives in the house or on the land kept by the family for 8 generations. Japan is like Europe in that the civilization that is there now is pretty continuous from the civilization that was there a thousand years ago. Lots of change, but not anything like the change on the scale to which the Americas have changed.
It was just so surprising to find that human nature is like that, even out in pretty peaceful countryside smalltown Japan. People gotta hate on someone, and so they did.
But the blue guys went in. “Yokatta,” said Osaki-san, and I’m still hard pressed to believe that this is the first year they’ve entered the shrine grounds, like ever. But whether things just reached that point here in 2010, or whether their wait in the parking lot was merely symbolic of the past, today everyone has the right to wear no pants and carry a huge, ornate, portable shrine with a giant drum and four men inside. Well, except chicks.