AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (133) Rumble in the forest

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, October 11, 2012

THE Iwa Shinto shrine was established deep in the forest in what is now Shiso, Hyogo. One story has the facility founded by an emperor in 144, and other by a different emperor in 564. The enshrined deity is Okuninushi (under a different name), who is thought to have been the ruler of Izumo province. He is the divinity of unseen worlds of magic, nation-building (in keeping with this name), farming, business, and medicine. A story told in the Kojiki has he and his 79 brothers competing to marry Princess Yakami of Inaba. He turned out to have been the studliest of them all, which so cheesed off his brothers that they conspired to kill him. Which they did, twice, but his mother — a goddess herself — brought him back to life. With 80 sons, she knew better than anyone that boys will be boys.

The shrine holds a fall festival in supplication for a good harvest from 15-16 October every year, which is a spectacle that attracts many. It’s not that complicated. Stout young lads representing five local communities carry in floats, which are really elaborate platforms for taiko drummers. Each one costs about JPY 20 million, which is about $US255,000 nowadays. The float bearers are wearing color-coded costumes by neighborhood: red, yellow, pink, green, and blue. They alternate every year being the first to enter the temple grounds.

This year, one of the floats got a new decoration. The people in this district rework it every 20 years.

I couldn’t find any information on when or why this festival started, but no one seems interested in historical records with this countryside extravaganza. It’s a stirring show with decorated floats maneuvered with masculine dispatch and chants to the beat of drums in the middle of a forest. Who needs a circus when you can have Primitivo instead? They parade around the shrine grounds and then take the floats for a one-kilometer march through the neighborhood to the river and back. After they return, the mikoshi, or portable Shinto shrine, is brought out to accompaniment of gagaku.

There are plenty of Youtubes, and one of them is below. For more photos, try this Japanese-language site, or this one.

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