AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (96): When girls do it

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, August 31, 2008

OVER THE CENTURIES, men have handled most of the heavy lifting, fighting, and other grunt work that is often a part of Japanese festivals. This has been changing in recent years, however, as more women are getting into the act by forming groups to carry their own mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrines. So many women want to help carry one of the mikoshi in the summertime Tenjin festival in Osaka, for example, that they have to formally apply and pass a screening process first.

Another festival with women-only mikoshi is the Dotchan Matsuri, held earlier this month for the 19th time in Imari, Saga. Imari was the port from which the famed Arita ware ceramics were shipped overseas in the 17th and 18th centuries. (There are a few kilns there now, but in the old days all Imari ware was Arita ware.)

According to the organizers, the name Dotchan is derived from the phrase Dotchan magiro ka na, which they explain in modern, non-dialect Japanese as Dotchi e iko ka na, or Where shall we go? The story has it that the people who kept asking the question were the tradesmen from around the country visiting Imari and wondering which of the local merchants to patronize. They supposedly had trouble deciding because all the merchants were very hospitable and offered superb merchandise.

In fact, the festival features not one, but two women-only mikoshi, as you can see from the photo. The two groups do not stage a battle on the city streets, however, which is often a part of these events. The idea behind the competitions is that the divinity will be on the side of the winning team, whose neighborhood will be blessed with a good harvest or catch of fish. Everyone likes a winner–even the gods!

People are sometimes injured in the heat of the competition, and the organizers have ambulances standing by. In fact, the objective of the mikoshi clash in the Ton-Ten-Ton Festival held in October in the same town is to drive the other team into the river. A local high school boy was killed during that festival three years ago.

The Dotchan Matsuri seems to be more tame. In addition to the mikoshi parade, there is bon odori, or summertime street dancing, taiko drums, a junior high school brass band, and a race with people carrying rice bales, which by traditional standards weighed 60 kilograms. (That’s more than 132 pounds, so it’s unlikely women get involved in that.)

But who wants to see a rice bale race when you can watch the stuff that’s going on in the photo instead!

One Response to “Matsuri da! (96): When girls do it”

  1. Ken said

    Bill,

    There seems a summer festival for a unique shrine that an ordinary policeman became the object of worship in your Saga prefecture.
    Do you know it?

    http://ww7.tiki.ne.jp/~taku-jg6fcp/sub2.htm

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