Japan from the inside out

Matsuri da! (137) Getting in hot water

Posted by ampontan on Saturday, December 15, 2012

THERE’S no better place in the world to take a bath in Japan, whether it’s at home, a small public bath in the neighborhood, a large public facility with extra features (such as massages and meals), or a hot spring resort.

The Japanese understand better than anyone that they’ve been blessed with hot water, and that’s one of the reasons for the annual festival held at the Shiobara hot springs in Shiobara-machi, Tochigi.

The Shimobarans themselves don’t know how long they’ve been taking the waters, but it was already well before 1659, when the supply was abruptly cut off by a tsunami. The folks in the neighborhood were so concerned they offered a prayer at a local shrine. Lo and behold, the water was restored. Hallelujah!

Grateful for their good fortune, they held a ceremony to distribute the sacred water to other shrines nearby.

Every year since then, they recreate that ceremony to give thanks for the spa waters and to pray for the prosperity of the resorts. It starts with a special Shinto rite for scooping out and dividing the water. That’s performed by five miko, or shrine maidens, who are second-year junior high school students. The water is then taken in a procession of 100 people dressed in white robes to the Shiobara Hachiman Shinto shrine, and then to other shrines and ryokan in the area.

It all concludes with a performance of the Urayasu dance by third-year junior high school students.

Well, it really concludes with a hot bath followed by a cooling beverage, but you know what I mean.

Here’s what the Urayasu dance looks like when performed in another location.

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