Matsuri da! (64): Frat party or Japanese religious rite?
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 29, 2007
IT’S A FESTIVAL conducted by a Shinto shrine, which makes it a quasi-religious ceremony, but one could be forgiven for thinking it more closely resembles a fraternity party from the movie Animal House.
That’s the Amazake (Sweet Sake) Festival, in which young men dress up as monkeys and have a high time by drinking locally brewed grog and then splashing it on each other. This year’s version was held on the 16th at the Sanno Shinto shrine in Uto, Kumamoto Prefecture.
They didn’t get the idea from watching a movie, either. The Sanno shrine has been conducting this festival every year in mid-December for the past 700 years.
Here’s what happens: 29-year-old men in the Sano district of the city are designated “parent monkeys”, and men aged 18 to 28 are assigned roles as their children, who have to serve them.
This is no ordinary drinking bash—it’s also a costume party. For the past 700 years, dressing up as a monkey has meant donning a red kimono, yellow sash, and white head covering. You’ll get the idea from the photo accompanying the post. The lads also go barefoot, but fortunately they aren’t required to pin a tail to their backsides.
There’s nothing particularly complicated about the concept. Similar shenanigans occur every weekend during the school year at universities around the world. The simians for a day meet at the shrine and start to drink. As the sake is passed around, they begin to chant “Ho-rai, ho-rai!” The more they drink, the rowdier they become, and eventually they start snatching away each other’s white sake flasks.
One thing always leads to another at affairs such as these, so it doesn’t take too long before they’ve graduated to splashing the booze on each other instead of drinking it. According to local custom, getting drenched in sake prevents illness in the year ahead.
That’s as good an excuse as any!
Not everyone is anxious to receive the health benefits to be derived from the drenching, however. Boys will be boys, and once they get to drinking and throwing sake around, it’s inevitable that a few of them will get carried away, start chasing the onlookers, and spill the wine on them, too.
One reporter interviewed a native of the area who works as a company employee in Tokyo, but comes back every year just to participate in the festival. He’s probably as healthy as a horse!
Another reporter covering the story spoke to 10-year-old Nakayama Takuro, who said he looked forward to being old enough to join in too. Now isn’t that part of what a religious institution is supposed to do—present a positive example for children to follow?
Take a look at this photo for another view of what’s been going on in Kumamoto since almost 200 years before Christopher Columbus set foot on the Santa Maria.
According to Christian tradition, Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish.
Just imagine the bash they could have thrown if he had come to the Sanno shrine in Uto!