Because Dr Trouble is crafty like (or like Paul the Octopus could predict the future, or both), he saved a couple of batches of photos on yet another hard drive. One that for now still works. And that's the only reason we were able prepare this post.
(Well, not only. Anything that has to do with the Bamba team, the one of the huge drum, Ms. Trouble saves directly on her MacBook. Yes, she likes those drummers.)
Today, Dr Trouble, in his usual matsuri otaku (matsuri – Japanese festival, otaku – otaku) manner, gives you the ins and outs of Tenno Sai.
Japanese Wiki says that this festival is related to Gozu Tenno (cow-headed Tenno - 牛頭天王, sorry Japanese only). This cow-headed creature is a Buddhist guardian but thanks to the syncretism principle, a.k.a. Shinbutsu shugo (神仏習合), is worshipped in both Buddhism and Shinto. In Shinto, Gozu Tenno became Susanoo (素戔男尊).
Why Tennosai festival in Futaara but not Yasaka shrine?
Enshrining Susanoo is Yasaka shrine’s (八坂神社) responsibility. Of the approximately 2300 Yasaka shrines in Japan, the one in the Gion district of Kyoto (京都祇園) is the mightiest of them all. Before the Meiji era, Gozu Tenno used to be worshipped there. As there was little or no distinction between a Buddhist guardian and a Shinto deity, people just came and prayed to Gozu Tenno or Susanoo, as they chose fit. After the Meiji era, shrines were forced to abandon Buddhist references, and that's how now it’s just Susanoo at Yasaka.
Actually, there is a Yasaka shrine in Utsunomiya, too.
Location of Yasaka shrine. It's a 5 min walk from JR Utsunomiya Station.
But Yasaka shrine in Utsunomiya is not involved in the Tenno Sai festival. Ichinomiya Shrine [= the most prestigious shrine in the area (一の宮)], and here that's Futaara shrine, organizes the festival. Every Utsunomiyan knows that the deity enshrined at Futaara is, in fact, Toyoki Irihiko no Mikoto (豊城入彦命), son of Emperor Sujin (崇神天皇). Futaara Shrine does not appear to have anything to do with Gozu Tenno. So how come Futaara is responsible for a festival of a cow-headed Buddhist guardian? Here is the answer. Futaara Shrine has incorporated several smaller shrines nearby and Suga Shrine (須賀神社), which was responsible for worshipping Gozu Tenno before the Meiji era, and Susanoo since then, is part of the Futaara complex. It’s to the right side of the main hall, behind the horse statue.
What happens during Tenno Sai?
What you could see on July 17th of Tenno Sai was a mikoshi procession from each city district. The exact number of districts participating varies every year. This year the procession was visibly smaller than in 2009, and to make sure that all mikoshi arrive at Futaara shrine at the usual time after sundown, the festivities started later than last year, around 5PM. However, the place where they gather before the procession was the same – the grounds of Utsunomiya castle park.
By the time the participants got together at the castle, most of them were already totally drunk! Then the mikoshis head to Futaara, guided by Tengu, a.k.a. Sarutahiko. If you’re unfamiliar with Sarutahiko, read this first, we wrote about this guy before.
The procession goes through Orion street and all the mikoshis stop by at PARCO, where the ancient Futaara shrine used to be located. Mikoshi from each district meets the head honcho – the Futaara mikoshi, and pay their respects. Their relationship is that of a father (Futaara mikoshi) and sons (city districts).
What everyone came to see
After greeting dad mikoshi, it's time for baby mikoshi to climb up the 95 stone steps of Futaara’s entrance. Thanks to all the booze, the participants go crazy and compete which team can run up the steps the fastest.
But that’s still nothing with the massive drum being carried up to Futaara. THAT is the attraction that everyone was waiting for. At least in Utsunomiya and at least during the matsuri season, these guys are bigger than Lady Gaga. And it helps that the drummers are kinda cute, too, you know…
And they never stopped drumming.
When the drum arrives in front of Futaara’s main hall, it’s time to bow for the last time. And then – paaaaarty!!!! Huge quantities of booze, roughly corresponding to the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf, are waiting to be consumed.
To be continued in part three. Maybe. That depends on whether or not we can recover our lost data.