September 18, 2005

Shishimai Matsuri 獅子舞祭

I survived, folks.

Two days (one full day, one half day) of drinking incessantly and uninhibitedly--from cold cans of Asahi beer to Okinawan awamori to the communal sake that is passed around the crowd while fellow matsuri participants take turns hoisting the 100+ kg. portable shrine through the drizzly streets of Takashiba neighborhood in Nachi-Katsuura Town (I had a few carries with the shrine, though not as many as an NFL running back, and I managed to thoroughly bruise my shoulder in the most intoxicated hours).

After a mind-numbing train ride down the coast of the Kii Peninsula (1. I forgot my discman, 2. Dostoyevsky was just not my cup of tea on this Friday afternoon), I arrived at Taiji station late Friday night and ended up drinking in impressive quantities (had to catch up to the others) until about 12:00 or 1:00 or so. The next morning we got up at 5:50. Nick and I stumbled half-awake out into the cool morning and into the procession just as it started on this foggy and drizzly Saturday morning.

Picture this:

Nick joins the flute ensemble without missing a beat. I am struggling to take clear photos with my outdated camera, struggling to see clearly after last night's drinking. Nonetheless it is a peaceful morning: the Ota River washes out into the currents of the Pacific, I can hear a few gulls, their calls mingling with the droning songs of the taiko and flutes, the damp streets and dew filled cedars by the shrine all cool the blood, which is hot from last night's drinking. The scene is much different from anything that I have experienced in Wakayama City, and I am grateful to be there. I am glad that we got up this early.

As the day moves along, it becomes more and more drizzly. We parade through the streets of the town, receiving the appropriate libations with the appropriate ceremonials--the Shishimai dances looking good at every spot and the music bringing the many generations of this town together. Sekiya san was my favorite taiko drummer, getting into all the matsuri chants and grunts when the music is smoking. Here he is in action on the street:

He is on your right, rocking out on the low drum, while in the foreground sits Katsu--taking a break on the sidewalk with me (photo taker).

Throughout the whole festival, I had a bit of trouble with my Japanese sandals. Sekiya lent me his pair since they were broken in (the new ones I had on originally were so painful it felt like my toes were going through a meat grinder). Here's me trying to walk in the first pair of sandals:

After lunch break, which involved heavy drinking of just about every kind of Japanese alcoholic beverage, we headed out for what was in my opinion the best part of the matsuri: the hour when all of the matsuri goers, or men at least, carried the extremely heavy portable shrine through the streets at the peak of our drunken stupor. I didn't bring my camera out for this for obvious reasons, but you can take my word for it. After that, we went back to the community center, where NHK filmed the performances and I passed out for about 15 minutes in the middle of the crowd (I was seated, such a position allowing me to discreetly doze off while everyone's attention was drawn to the dances and music). Then it was more parading and drinking and ending up passed out again, this time in someone's Mini Cooper just a few blocks from the dances. When I was woken up by Nick and friends, I had a terrible headache, so I drank some tea this time and caught the last few acts of the nightime festivities. After that, it was onsen time and oyasumi.

Today the weather was beautiful. I sweated off a few of the thousands of calories I have consumed from beer and snacks, then put more on with, you guessed it, beer and snacks. I watched four more performances, some involving some strange special guests. Would you trust you children with this man?

I am not so sure if he was part of the Shishimai Matsuri of yesteryore, but it sure was a strange and funny way to wrap up the matsuri.

Anyways, the weekend was a spectacular event, a very auspicious way to kick off these next few weeks--my school festival, trip to Korea, etc. I made some new friends, saw some old ones, and just had fun getting my feet wet in the life of a small town tucked away on the beautiful southern tip of the Kii Peninsula. There was even an old house from the Meiji era that I got to take some photos of. The photos however do very little justice to the weekend, so you will have to imagine the rest...

Junji and me.

Shishimai in action.

Rina and Maiko

Early morning beer...

Meiji era House


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