I’d like to share with you a really special experience that I had about two weekends ago. I would have posted sooner, but mid term tests are starting, and its been a bit hectic. So my apologies!!
I was asked by an activities office staff member if I would like to participate in Minato ku (Minato ward’s) Mikoshi festival. I was told it was a rare opportunity, and one that would really give me an insight into traditional Japanese festival culture. So I immediately signed up.
A Mikoshi is a “portable shrine”, that is believed to be able to house a deity while it is being moved from one shrine, to a temporary shrine for ceremonial purposes. It is shaped like a buliding, with pillars and a roof, and often covered in gold leaflet and other decorations. It is carried on four poles that are placed atop people’s shoulders. A large group of people is needed to carry the Mikoshi, as it is very heavy. The transportation of the Mikoshi from its original shrine, to the temporary shrine for a ceremony, and back make up the Mikoshi festival.
There is a leader who walks in front of the group and instructs them on where to turn, when to slow down, and when to speed up. Normally we would walk quite slow, almost like a minced march, and it took us about an hour and a half to go from the starting point to the shrine for the ceremony. Half way there we were given a break, and were provided with refreshments and some food. It was very hot, and since there are so many people carrying the Mikoshi with you, it feels even warmer. We were allowed to wear traditional uniform which is made up of a jacket, a headband, traditional Japanese Happi shoes, and a sash. Each ward’s uniform is different. As you can see from above, Minato’s uniform was white and navy blue.
Three other Mikoshi’s were being transported for the ceremony that day, and we met up with them at the shrine. There, we witnessed a ceremonial blessing of the Mikoshi’s by a Shinto priest. It was really amazing.
Several men also sang a traditional Edo period song, and after that we all shouldered the Mikoshi again and headed back to the start point. I took several breaks on the way to the ceremony, so I decided on the way back that I would aim to carry the Mikoshi for the entire march back. I was able to accomplish that goal, and I was really proud of myself. This wasn’t of course, without a break. As on the way there, we were able to take a half hour break when we reached the half way point. This time, many local women has set up tables with large amounts of food for everyone to eat. It was really delicious! Finally, when we returned to the start point, we were invited to have an oden dinner with the local men with whom we had carried the Mikoshi. Oden is a traditional Japanese fish cake soup, which is very popular. Other snacks were also provided, a long with a wide variety of beverages. The local men were really nice, and it was really good practice to talk with them in Japanese. Many of them had visited the States, or where interested in American music or baseball teams, so there was a lot to talk about. However, after a long day, myself and the other TUJ volunteers decided to call it quits after an hour or so of socializing.
I’m really glad I signed up to participate, and even though it was hard work, I learned a lot and met a lot of really great people. I hope to be able to participate in the festival again next year if I return!!