Monday, July 20, 2009

Tenno Sai in Utsunomiya

Yes, I know, I know… This blog has been left to rot again. But I have a good excuse this time – I got a new job, which I love, by the way, and so I’ve been working my butt off. And oh yeah, trying very hard not to kill my mother in law, but I guess that’s normal when you live very close to the in-laws and when MIL hates your guts and makes it known to anybody who wants to listen, right?


Anyway, apart from working hard and not killing my MIL, I’ve also been prancing around Utsunomiya, taking tons of photos, setting up a new photoblog (yes, I know, I know, I need to update this photo gallery on here, too) – for photos of Utsunomiya almost exclusively, and investigating local festivals.


One of such festivals is Tenno Sai – 天王祭. A Shinto festival to honor past emperors. It’s a regional event and many communities have their own versions of it. The one in Utsunomiya was started 39 years ago (so it’s my husband’s  age, LOL) and this year was held on July 15th through the 20th.


Compared with the previous years, this time it seemed rather small – there were only 34 mikoshi 神輿 – portable Shinto shrines taking part in the procession.


Shrine 2

Yep, that's a mikoshi - a portable shinto shrine.


But let’s start at the beginning. We got downtown and met a random Shinto priest (who believe it or not, may be actually reading this blog - "Hi! And thank you so much for all your help!") who very kindly gave us the schedule for the day’s festivities. He told us all the mikoshi would gather at the Utsunomiya Castle and from there at 6PM start a procession to the Futaara Shrine.


Priest

Yep, that's the guy.


We went to the Castle. It’s not really a real castle, but a lousy reconstruction of what used to be a castle back in the very olden days. My husband got through the gate without any problems, but I got stopped and pretty much thrown out. Why? You needed a press pass to get in. But if you looked sufficiently Japanese and acted like you belonged, nobody would pay any attention to you. I, on the other hand, stuck out like a sore thumb. After a couple of forceful “she’s with me” from a guy dressed all in black and carrying a huge Nikon, I was allowed in. Or rather, the guy in black managed to sneak me in.


Inside, I still stuck out like a blonde amidst a sea of Japanese, but yeah, acting like you belong and smiling to men drinking beer will do the trick every time. I was left alone to my own devices and could observe the preparations in peace.


And everything was going fine until a press guy showed up and wanted to see my press pass. After a couple of forceful “I’m with him” and pointing in the general direction of the crowd below, I was once again left to my own devices.


I watched kids drum up a storm, I watched guys tying their unmentionables up in traditional Japanese underwear – fundoshi – 褌, and yes, I was flashed a couple of times – totally on purpose, and yes, they were hung like Shetland ponies. I watched girls wave fans, politicians make speeches (Utsunomiya is all sorts of number one, and so on) and priests wander around and look priestly.


Bare bums

Because I've just had dinner and don't want to lose it, I'm going to spare you the full frontal, OK?


Drumming team
They were actually very good.


Right before 6PM we assumed our positions outside and enjoyed the show. We followed the procession along the designated route and on Orion dori (Orion Street), which is basically a covered up pedestrian passage, I got drafted.


A couple of guys very gently led me towards their mikoshi, relieved me of my camera and purse and told me to carry the shrine along with them screaming “seya” on top of my lungs every few seconds.


Me at tenno sai

Yes, that head up there hanging in embarrassment is mine, and yes, I know, it's time to get my roots done.


It was interesting. It was also very tight and smelly. I had a groin rub against me from the back and a bum grind me from the front. Probably every person on Orion dori, who happened to see us snapped a picture of this crazy gaijin woman carrying a mikoshi with a bunch of guys. Yeah, every person, except my husband. He was too busy taking photos of cute little children and almost died laughing when our mikoshi went past by him.


How did I feel afterwards? Sore! That portable shrine is bloody heavy.


Happy team

Kid teams carry kid-size mikoshi.

And when we finally reached Futaara, it was dark and raining. My back was hurting like hell, my camera was wet and I felt oddly elated that I managed to survive the night without being groped. Not even once! Now, how's that for speshul, huh?

Reaching futara shrine 2
Now, up those steps, all 96 of them, here we go!

More photos from Tenno Sai are here: Tochigi Daily Photo, because what the world needs right now is yet another photoblog. Like, totally.


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