Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (131) Division of labor

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, September 9, 2012

THE folks in Tateyama, Chiba, have arranged their annual summer festival at the Sunosaki Shinto shrine in late August to incorporate a division of labor in the task of driving away the evil spirits and asking for safety on the sea. The girls have one part, and the boys have another part, and no, this is not leading to that Chuck Berry song.

The girls’ part comes first. That’s the Minoko Odori, the joint name for two separate dances that each have their own names and that are national intangible folklore cultural assets. The photo above of the dance scene was taken the guy who runs the Naive (Japanese language) website. The first dance is to drive out the wicked intangibles, and the second is to ask the divinities, associated with the sea, for a reset of the world.

It’s performed now by primary and junior high school girls, but once upon a time the dancers were young women around 20. The story has it that the most fetching dancers used to receive marriage proposals on the spot from the young men watching from the side. Another story has it that the young men used to dance too, and if we’re not careful all roads are going to start leading to Chuck Berry.

After the dancing is done, it’s time for the boys to do their part. Nowadays, they’re men in their early 20s, but they say the participants years ago were young boys. That sounds suspiciously like a solution for giving the lads something to do to keep them from getting in trouble with the dancers. Their job is to carry the mikoshi, a portable shrine with the divinity, from the main shrine down an exterior stairway and then along the road to the sea. I couldn’t find an explanation for the reason, but the priests likely offer another prayer for safety on the sea.

It’s not just any old stairway, either. It has 148 steps on a 30-degree slope, and the divinity inside takes it upon himself to start reeling and rocking on the way down. Naive captured that image, too:

The name of the slope itself is another word that translates to driving out evil. The Tateyamanians seem to have very high standards for the type of spirits they’re willing to let hang around.

Here’s a close-up of the mikoshi itself, this taken by the guy who runs the Japanese website Hibi Arekore.

Here’s another report of a different festival in which the guys also risk their necks bringing a mikoshi down the hill. And here’s a Youtube video of what happens at Sunosaki shrine.

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