Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

a random monster with some serious pelvis action, as seen in downtown Utsunomiya.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kikusui Festival at Futaara Shrine in Utsunomiya

Today and tomorrow (Oct 30 - 31) our esteemed Futaarayama shrine is holding its annual Kikusui festival. But of course, today the weather shitted upon itself (typhoon number 14) and we had no chance to go to downtown Utsunomiya to check out what was going on. If anything.

And this is what was supposed to be going on:

1. Yabusame.

Yes, traditional archery on horseback right in front of the shrine, across the street from Parco (department store).

Those of you who are familiar with Futaara are probably scratching their heads. And I don't blame you. It's hard to fathom just WHERE this yabusame is supposed to be held.

Answer: on that short stretch of sidewalk between the torii and the steps leading to the shrine.
There's just one target and the whole thing is very anti-climactic. But hey, it means Futaara can say it has yabusame and stuff. Good for them.

2. Mikoshi procession.

Yeah, you can't have a festival without a mikoshi procession. I don't know how some other towns in Japan can put up with such blatant godlessness. Can you believe that there is no mikoshi parade at the annual Takamatsu City Festival? Blasphemy!

During Kikusui there is a small, very dignified procession on both days. The deity enshrined at Futaara - Toyoki iribiko no mikoto is transfered into the mikoshi and then taken for a walk around the central part of the city. Presumably to survey and bless his area. Nosey god, if you ask me.

3. Some boring, useless ritual ceremonies to make it appear that the priests are actually doing something.

So yeah, that's Kikusui for you. If the weather is less sucky tomorrow, and I manage to get up at a decent hour, we might go down to the shrine to investigate if anything exciting is happening.

Photos are from last year's festival.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vile has a new name

... and it's Pepsi Mont Blanc.

Once upon a time I licked a brick. Don't ask me why. We do strange things when we're young. But if I'm not mistaken, I licked that brick quite voluntarily. And today quite voluntarily I bought a bottle of Pepsi Mont Blanc.

For those who don't live in Japan - every so often Pepsi comes out with a new seasonal flavor here.

There was Ice Cucumber Pepsi (quite OK), there was Baobab Pepsi (diluted bathroom cleaner with just a hint of a more potent chemical when the aftertaste kicked in). There was Shiso Pepsi, which I skipped, because I can't stand shiso (perilla). There was Blue Hawaiian Pepsi, which was actually quite fun. Mercifully, I've been spared Pepsi White (yogurt flavor).
And there was Azuki Pepsi - red bean Pepsi - stuff so horrid I still get a gag reflex just thinking about it.

I thought that Azuki Pepsi would be a tough act to follow. I was wrong. Mont Blanc Pepsi is a worthy successor in the long line of Pepsi's undrinkable novelty flavors.

Mont Blanc is a chestnut cream cake, a very popular dessert in Japan, and presumably, in other parts of the world as well. I used to kind of like it. Until I tried a particularly awful one from Ginza Cozy Corner (at Apita in Utsunomiya). Now I'm permanently chestnut cream caked out.

Image by Jasmine Yomei via Flickr CC.

If you are intent on trying mont blanc, you can get it at just about any Japanese bakery or sweets shop, for example at Panya (8 Stuyvesant St) in New York City.

And just to clarify my beverage preferences - I don't drink Pepsi. The stuff is horrid, even without any funky flavors. See? For me Ice Cucumber Pepsi was actually an improvement over the regular thing.

OK, so I'm a glutton for punishment. I bought a bottle of Pepsi Mont Blanc. And actually tried it.
And that brick that I licked as a child was an instant flashback.
The base flavor was about the same - raw brick. But with a just a hint of burnt cappuccino and bitter chocolate aftertaste. Or bitter cappuccino and burnt chocolate.

As hard as I tried, I couldn't taste any chestnut. Not to mention cream or cake. Only brick and stale coffee.

This experience is not going to stop me from trying other novelty Pepsi flavors in the future. And actually, I'm patiently waiting for more adventurous concoctions, like Kimchi Pepsi, or Monja Pepsi, or yes, even as my twitter friends suggested - Mentaiko Pasta Pepsi and Sweet Potato Pepsi.

And you know what the scary thing is? I wouldn't be surprised in the least bit if one day I saw any of these flavors at the store.

Kimchi Pepsi would go lovely with Umeboshi Kitkats.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daimyo Gyoretsu in Utsunomiya

Once upon a time Utsunomiya used to have a castle. It was an important castle, too, but that’s a topic for another post.

Anyway, during the Boshin War (戊辰戦争) in 1868-69 between the Tokugawa people and the Meiji people, the castle was burned and destroyed to nothing.

The typical lot of the losing side. There are many interesting stories about the castle, and the war, and how and why it was destroyed, and I believe that one of these days Dr Trouble will give you the 411 on that. He’s good at stuff like that. Full of historical links, archival photos and whatnots.

But where were we? Ah yes, the castle.

 Here it is in the spring

It’s partially (one-third) restored now, with two turrets standing and a half a moat around them. Inside the former castle there is now a park. That’s the place where all mikoshis from all the districts gather for the annual Tenno Sai festival. That’s the place we normally invade during Tenno Sai without any proper press passes to film and photograph all the commotion.

And that’s the place that wanted to have its very own small event – the Festival of the Site of Utsunomiya Castle. It took place last Sunday – October 24, 2010.

The highlight of this festival was supposed to be a procession of Japanese feudal lords – Daimyo Gyorestu. And to see that I was forced to get up at 7AM. On a Sunday. Bleh…

Of course there are no feudal lords these days in Japan. There are people who own funky real estate, and there are people who own other people, but I wouldn't call them feudal lords necessarily, if you know what I mean. Yakuza immediately comes to mind, though.

Anyway, since there are no real lords (lords of the criminal underworld do not count), a call for volunteers was issued in the summertime. If you wanted, you could sign up and participate in the procession. Even if you’re a foreigner. Black, white, striped, it didn't matter; male or female, young or old, it didn’t matter. All they wanted was a pulse. And the ability to put one foot in front of the other.

It seems that not that very many people were interested in volunteering, because the majority of the procession consisted of elementary, junior high and high school kids. And old, retired people who have absolutely nothing better to do on Sundays.

The procession started at Nishi Elementary School and went via Union Street and Orion Street to the shrine. At Futaara shrine, our friendly Shinto priest, Mr. Ueno (looking very ragged and tired, what happened, Mr Ueno? Are you OK? Please take care of yourself!) preformed oharai (waving of the stick with a bunch of shredded paper at its end over the heads of the people).

And after that, the procession continued to the Castle Park.

It was mind-boggingly boring. I can’t believe that I actually got up at the butt crack of dawn to witness that.

What else can I tell you? Maybe that this march was patterned after a famous scroll depicting the procession of the high lord Toda Echizen no kami Tadayuki (戸田越前守忠恕), the 46th lord of Utsunomiya Castle, who visited Nikko instead of the current shogun. Presumably, the good shogun had better things to do. And frankly, I can’t blame him.

But I didn’t really want to tell you that, because I’m too lazy to scan a photo of the scroll to post it here. So, this very brief description will have to do for now.

Last Sunday’s event was the first attempt to re-created the procession based on the scroll.

OK, so that’s it.

If you want to read more about Utsunomiya Castle, you have to ask Dr Trouble, and knowing him, he’ll prepare a five-part post series detailing the most obscure aspects of this landmark structure.

PS. More photos of high school age daimyos are here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival – the most exciting weekend in Kanuma city - part 2

Part 1 of the Kanuma Autumn Festival is here.

Confidential document kept in the Agency for Cultural Affairs REVEALED!!! 

Among manners and customs related to folk entertainment, annual events, forms of faith, life, and occupations that have been inherited and still exist, 264 items are assigned, by the Japanese Government under the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties (文化財保護法), as Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties (重要無形民俗文化財).  
Whoa! That was a mouthful.

In Tochigi Prefecture 4 activities are listed in the document, and the Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival is one of them (assigned as an Important Cultural Property on February 20, 2003).
Here is the description listed in the database of the Agency for Cultural Affairs (文化庁). Sorry all of them are in Japanese only, no English…

Below is a brief translation of the Japanese description. Images are made or integrated by us at totally random intervals to stop you from falling asleep.

The Kanuma yatai activity is held during the annual festival at Imamiya shrine located in Kanuma city, Tochigi prefecture.

Kanuma city is located the mid-western part of Tochigi, flanked by Utsunomiya to the east and Nikko to the north. Since the early modern period, Kanuma was one of the Shukuba (宿場) - post stations along Nikko Reiheishi Kaido (日光例幣使街道) – subroute connecting Nakasendo and Nikko Kaido.

 Nikko Reiheishi street. It is 113.5 km long starting from Kuragano shuku (倉賀野宿) - in Takasaki city to Imaichi shuku (currently in Nikko city). There are 21 shukus (stations) and Kanuma is the 18th station. (click on image to see larger version)

Kanuma used to be an important hemp gathering and weaving center. Hemp was grown and woven into fabric in and around the Kanuma district. The city is still a center of wood industry. Imamiya shrine is located in the center of the city and worshipped as Ujigami (氏神) among 34 districts located in the city center.

The annual festival at Imamiya shrine takes place during the second weekend in October and begins by dedicating yatai (wooden festival floats). Among the 34 Ujiko districts 28 own custom-made yatai and around 20 districts participate in the festival each year.

 Ancient yatai style

The yatai in Kanuma is a single floor structure with four wheels. The yatai procession is accompanied by traditional music played by musicians located inside the cabin. Each yatai is decorated with magnificent sculptures and carvings partially covered with detailed metal engravings – in a style influenced by art designs and sculpture techniques developed by skilled carpenters who were involved in the construction of Nikko Tosho-gu (東照宮) and the Five Story Pagoda (五重の塔).

Schematic representation showing the affiliation of yatai to Ujiko districts. This year 27 districts participated in the festival. And yes, those are the actual yatai that belong to those particular districts. (click on image for larger version).

34 Ujiko districts are divided into four groups: Kami (上- upper), Shimo (下- lower), Tamachi Kami (田町上), and Tamachi Shimo (田町下組). On average 8-9 Ujiko districts belong to one group. The responsibility for organizing the festival is rotated annually among the four groups. In the group responsible for the festival in a given year, one district (determined by turns) is in charge of organizing the event and called Ichiban-cho (一番町- Number One Town).

In principle, there is also a fixed chief district of the group called Oya-cho (親町- Parent town). The chief district of Kami gumi (- group: 上組) is Kubo-cho (久保町), Shimo group (下組) – Naka-machi (仲町), Tamachi Kamigumi (田町上組) – Kamita-machi (上田町), and Tamachi Shimogumi (田町下組) – Nakata-machi (中田町).

Current style yatai - front

The Yatai festival beings with an event called "Enko Sai" (縁故祭 - relationship festival?) at Imamiya shrine on July 20th. It is a ritual ceremony in which the new organizing district takes over the responsibility of Ichiban-cho from the previous year’s one, with Shinto priests, the president and the vice-president of Ujiko members, accountants, committee members of Ichiban-cho (previous and current year), and chiefs of each Ujiko districts. (Yeah, celebrities and VIPs)

(Yes, I am ready to chew my leg off and bleed to death, too. You're not alone – Mrs. Trouble).

The next ceremony is buttsuke on the first Saturday in September. The ceremony is meant as a dress rehearsal of the Yatai festival. Fully assembled yatai do NOT appear at this time. Instead, each districts provides a concise version of a pseudo-four-wheel car and they get into the shrine with the accompaniment of a traditional orchestra.
This is an opportunity for the districts to show their willingness to attend the main festival this year. By going through this rehearsal, Ichiban-cho, the district in charge of organizing the main festival, can confirm which districts will participate in October. Then meetings take place over and over, until everything is scheduled, coordinated, and negotiated.

 Current style yatai - side

Rei taisai (the annual festival) in October begins with all the celebrity members described above getting together (in formal wear) and praying at Imamiya shrine early in the morning of the first day of the event. It is called "Asamiya Mairi" (朝宮参り - visiting the shrine and praying early in the morning). It starts off with Ichiban-cho’s prayers, followed by the remaining districts belonging to the organizing group of the year, and then - all the rest.

After singing a song and leaving its home district's territory, the yatai pulled by Ujiko members heads to the shrine to pray. When that’s done, it makes a clockwise turn by the shrine and returns home. The process is done before breakfast, around 7AM. Afterwards, the Chief Ujiko from the districts participating in the festival and the festival committee members get together at the shrine to participate in a ritual ceremony there. While this ritual ceremony’s going on at the shrine, each yatai starts to march within its own district and prepares for the procession to the shrine later in the day.

Here is a video of buttsuke (which takes place on the second day of the festival):

By the time a foreign yatai goes across another district’s territory to visit the shrine, the diplomats have to make a deal with other diplomats who belong to the “foreign” districts along the way to the shrine. All has to agree as to when and how long the yatai can travel across “foreign” districts. When the negotiations are successful, Ujiko members from foreign districts wait at the border, expecting the yatai to arrive on time. When the yatai goes across the border, foreign Ujiko members lead the yatai to the other border of the district. Prior to the negotiations, no yatai can pass through any foreign district. If you break this rule, your neighbor’s yatai will be heavily armed, like tank, next year.

A flock of Ujiko members pulling yatai, waiting for the “Kurikomi” ceremony (image from the official city book).

There is law and order governing how all yatai get into the shrine (called Yatai Kurikomi: 屋台繰り込み). The first to go in is the yatai of Ichiban-cho. After passing under the shrine torii (鳥居), ohayashi (お囃子: musical accompaniment) is dedicated to the gods and the yatai team is purified by the priests with oharai (お祓い) – that thing that looks like a mop of shredded paper on a stick. When that is done, the yatai is moved to a particular spot on the shrine grounds and waits until all the Yatai Kurikomi (繰り込み) is completed.

Watch this video, Mrs Trouble filmed Yatai Kurikomi this year.

When all the participating yatai are purified and parked, once again, all the celebrities get into the Haiden Hall (拝殿) – the main hall of the shrine, and have another ritual ceremony called “Houkoku Sai" (報告祭 - reporting festival).

Image from Kanuma's official guidebook on page 18. "Applauding ceremony" after sunset at Imamiya shrine. 

In the evening, lanterns are attached to the yatai for illumination and ohayashi music resumes. The process called “Kuridashi" (繰り出し - getting out of the shrine and going home) starts when the sun is fully set. It begins with the Ichiban-cho’s yatai. When the yatai of Ichiban-cho leaves the shrine, a ceremony called “Teuchi Shiki" (手打ち式) - applauding ceremony takes place. The rest of yatai go home after the applause ceremony in the same order they went inside.

Here’s a comment on this event by the Agency for Cultural Affairs:

Since the festival is one of the typical characteristics of a traditional yatai ceremony, it is significantly important.

Damn, that was long and convoluted to translate. I realized that the description of the Kanuma Yatai festival covers only the events taking place on day one of the whole festival. Probably the events on day two are mostly to entertain and cheer people up.

Here's the video (lovingly filmed by Mrs Trouble) during the festivities on day two. Yes, the good people of Kanuma love Mrs Trouble (and she loves them back):

If you read Japanese, please visit the city's official site where all the events are described and illustrated with images.

Note from Mrs Trouble: 

And guess what? Utsunomiya mikoshi was also visiting Kanuma! Here it is - blocking the yatai passage. The Ujiko members must pay their respects to the mikoshi before allowed to proceed.

And of course I filmed it:

Friday, October 22, 2010


As you've probably noticed, 99% of photos simply vanished from the blog. And 99% of links to older posts are broken.

This is due to the fact that we've moved!

Yes, we are free of TypePad. At long last!

My frustrations with TypePad were many, and I've written about them in fits of rage on numerous occasions. Moving the entire blog to a new platform was the only solution.

However, it came with its own set of problems - those missing photos and broken links.

Yes, we are under construction

I am going to re-upload all images one by one, and fix all links, one by one. On all posts. I've already started. If I fix about 10 posts a day, this whole project should take me about a month. Gee... it seems that I need an assistant. Urgently!

In the meantime, if you notice anything else (feed, subscription modules, anything!) that seems out of order, please let me know.

And also in the meantime, if you've linked to this blog, or any individual posts, please be so kind and update the links. Yes, even though the domain name stayed the same, the links are slightly different.

Because I need your links - desperately. My page rank went from 4 back to zero. LOL!

I would also like to thank the people who made this move possible - Amanda and Mike.

Amanda is a travel writer extraordinaire and Mike is a computer-web-thingamajic genius. Without them I'd still be ripping my hair out, cursing TypePad everytime my uploaded photos look bluish, washed out and ugly.

If you've ever thought of becoming a travel writer, you should take Amanda's class. I was one of her lost causes who never actually finished the course, couldn't spell, wrote in ten-paragraph sentences and abhorred structure, outlines, and all that other writer stuff.

But guess what? I STILL managed to actually learn something! Ha!

Amanda and Mike - thank you!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kanuma Buttsuke Autumn Festival – the most exciting weekend in Kanuma city

This is part 1 of our report from Kanuma, part 2 is here.

Kanuma city with its "Star of David" symbol
Kanuma city (鹿沼市) in Tochigi Prefecture is known for its gardening soil - Kanuma tsuchi (鹿沼土) and for Satsuki azalea (サツキ). The official city logo is a stylized azalea symbol, by the way. Thanks to the fertile Kanuma soil (maybe?) the official flowers grow in Kanuma very well, so well in fact, that the city has a special event called the Satsuki festival (鹿沼さつき祭り) - sorry, the link’s in Japanese only, which takes place in May. If you are into bonsai (盆栽), you’ve probably used the famous Kanuma soil already. Yes, it's being exported to all corners of the world.

Oh, it might be fun to actually show you the symbol of this city. On our photoblog Mrs. Trouble has introduced the stylized Kanuma logo that she happened to spot during her pilgrimages to the driver’s license testing center there last year.

The official Kanuma City flag. Mrs Trouble squealed with delight upon seeing it, even though this city has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism!!! 

Lately, the city has been emphasizing its wood industry (sorry, Japanese only), and not just as furniture making, but also for its design.
There are all sorts of wood-related companies located in one particular industrial area. Though if you are a first time visitor to Kanuma, you might be excused for thinking that the whole city is nothing but one huge industrial area.

Kanuma is also the birthplace of my grandmother, aged 91. She always buys Konjac (コンニャク) whenever she goes to visit her hometown. Konnyaku from Kanuma is a chi-chi brand among old Tochigi natives, I guess.

 Image: Wikipedia. Lots of fiber, and low in calories - an ideal snack for keeping yourself fit. 

Oh, oh, oh, one more you-absolutely-shouldn’t-miss thing in Kanuma is a firewalking festival. Although technically still in Kanuma, it takes place in the middle of nowhere. “Middle of nowhere” as in “mountains, forests and wild bears”, but still within Kanuma city limits. Awesome!

That’s one of Mrs. Trouble’s favorite performances. She even confessed that, after videotaping the firewalking event, she wouldn’t mind becoming a Buddhist monk (nun?) at Mt. Kongo Zuihoji temple (古峯原金剛山瑞峯寺), if there was such a possibility... I assure you that if that moment comes, I will photograph the ritual ceremony of Mrs. Trouble shaving her head. Just like I did when she botoxed her forehead.

Well, I admit that I, myself, am an enthusiastic admirer of Zoroastrianism, a religion revering fire in any form, but becoming a Buddhist monk at Mt Kongo Zuihoji and playing with fire there doesn’t seem very appealing to me…

But I also like this event because it is one of the very few occasions when you can still witness the ancient style (before the Meiji Era) of religion in Japan - when shinbutsu shugo (神仏習合) - syncretism of Shinto deities and Buddhas was common and no haibutsu kishaku (廃仏毀釈) was instituted. It feels a bit odd seeing Buddhist monks carrying a Shinto mikoshi (portable shrine) and doing Oharai [(お祓い) – a ritual purification ceremony in Shinto.

Alright, alright, I can tell you’re getting bored with this “who-cares-about syncretism-of-Shinto-and-Buddhism” stuff… Let’s proceed.

Buttsuke Autumn festival as Rei Taisai of Imamiya shrine
In Japan, on October 9th, 10th and 11th this year we had a long weekend. This was possible thanks to a national holiday called “Health and Sports Day” (体育の日). It commemorates the opening of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and exists to promote sports and active lifestyle, Wikipedia says.
It is on that long holiday weekend that Buttsuke (= bump, collision) Autumn Festival takes place at Imamiya Shrine (今宮神社) – sorry, Japanese only - and in Kanuma downtown. This is Rei Taisai (例大祭 - the most prestigious festival in a shrine) of Imamiya Shrine, as you can imagine.

These images come from the 2010 Kanuma City Official Guidebook (100 JPY):

This photo, and the one below were taken in 1917.

See, this is an old festival...

Yatai of Izumi-cho and local people. When this photo was taken is not known. 

Imamiya Shrine as a branch of Nikko Futaara Shrine
This shrine was built by Monk Sho-do (勝道上人). Without him we can’t describe the history of shrines in Tochigi Prefecture. The guy was very religious and very busy.

Three month after his accomplishment in developing Nikko’s Futaara Shrine (日光二荒山神社) in 782AD (or CE, if you prefer), he stopped at Kanuma and found a sacred spot suitable for building yet another shrine. The place was called Gosho no mori (御所の森 - the grove of Imperial Palace).
On September 8, 782AD, on that spot he dedicated a shrine enshrining the same three deities that Nikko’s Futaara does - Okuni (大国主), Tagorihime (田心姫), and Ajisukitakahikone (味耜高彦根命). The new shrine was called Nikko Imamiya Daigongen (日光今宮大権現).
Yes, Imamiya shrine used to be a branch of Nikko’s Futaara Shrine.

Here is an interesting thing. The original place where Monk Sho-do decided to build the branch of Nikko’s Futaara is NOT where the current Imamiya Shrine is located. The original location is where the Kita (= north) Elementary School stands now.

Who moved it, when and why???
During the Sengoku Period (戦国時代) Tadatsuna UTSUNOMIYA (宇都宮忠綱) sent troops to attack the Kanuma castle and kill its lord - Tsunakatsu KANUMA (鹿沼綱勝). After the battle, in 1532, the vassal of the Utsunomiya clan, Tsunafusa MIBU (壬生綱房), was sent to rule the Kanuma district. He was appointed as the new owner of the castle, and renovated the whole place top to bottom. In 1534 he decided to relocate Nikko Imamiya Daigongen – he wanted to place it by the castle for the prosperity and safety of his clan.

Since then, the shrine was called Imamiya Daigongen (今宮大権現). The name of “Nikko” was dropped but the enshrined deities remained the same.

In the late 16th century, the Kanuma castle was attacked by the UTSUNOMIYA and YUKI clans and the owner of the castle - the MIBU clan, was terminated there and then. Sadly, despite their best efforts, Imamiya Daigongen did not protect them.

Click on image to view larger size. The grove of Imperial Palace is currently at Kita Elementary School. The present-day Imamiya Shrine is right by the Kanuma City Hall. West of the City Hall is where the Kanuma Castle used to be, but nowodays it’s a park with a baseball field and tennis courts.

In our current Heisei era, the Kanuman (カヌマン) is the guardian of the city…
The Red one is inspired by strawberry, Blue - by garlic chives (one of Kanuma’s local specialties), Yellow - by Kanuma soil (as described above), and Pink - by Satsuki flowers (again, as described above).

Yes, the city of Kanuma has its very own official action figures. Inspired by garlic and soil, no less. Go figure…

How Buttsuke Autumn Festival started
You can never guess how the festival originated. Mrs Trouble blabbed something about it last year, but here’s the real deal.

The year 1608 had astonishingly dry weather. Ujiko (氏子) members (refer to Ujigami - 氏神) of Imamiya shrine and local farmers had no choice but to pray for rain. They organized ritual ceremonies and their begged the gods until the rainfall was granted. To their consternation, after three days of chanting, singing, dancing, praying and whatever else they could come up with, the long anticipated rain clouds emerged out of nowhere and a huge thunderstorm overwhelmed the town (village back then?).

The rains came down on June 19th in the lunar calendar, and the festival called Yoi matsuri (宵祭り - eve of a festival) was established on that day, with Rei sai (例祭 - an annual festival) on the following day - June 20th.

From the Taisho Period to Showa 23 (1912-1948), the festival took place on September 9th (one day only). In 1948, the Local Autonomy Law [(地方自治法) was passed at the National Diet of Japan (国会 - take it easy, it's a parliament, and has nothing to do with national dieting), and accordingly, the schedule of this festival was also changed to its current time in October.

Since this event has 402 years of history, many things, including its schedule, changed from time to time, but one thing stayed constant. Even now, the festival tends to bring rainy weather, at least for one day. The ancient Kanumans wish is still being granted, even in 21st century... it’s so reliable, isn’t it?

Video of very rainy day one of the festival (yes, Mrs. Trouble finally had an excuse to use her waterproof video camera):

More photos from Kanuma Buttsuke 2010 are here and here and here and even here. And oh yeah, here too. (No worries, these are links to our photoblog).

More videos can be found in part 2 of our report. Or if you prefer, you can go directly to our YouTube channel. Plenty of other goodness there, too. And please subscribe when you're there! Thnx!

To be continued...

This is part 1 of our report from Kanuma, part 2 is here.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tekomai Girls Explained

Who are these girls in front of mikoshi (a portable shrine)? Where did they come from? What's their job?

image: Wikipedia

It is a rule (sometimes followed and sometimes not) that a mikoshi should be preceded by a group of local gals. They are called “Tekomai" (手古舞). Let me tell you a bit about their origin and their goofy fashion.

In the mid-Edo period, geishas (芸者) acted as tekomai. However, these days, since there are not enough geishas, and besides – they have other, more exciting things to do, local schoolkids are encouraged to attend and play this role.

It was customary for tekomai to wear a “man’s” kimono. Yes, it IS a MAN’s outfit that a tekomai girl wears. Back in the olden days, mikoshi (portable shrine) was considered so sacred that females were not even allowed to join the procession. And probably that’s why those geishas had to pretend to look like men, I guess.

Tekomai and their flower-decorated hats. Kanuma Autumn Festival 2009

Now, about their clothes:
  • - Juban (襦袢)- sort of kimono underclothes is normally scarlet-red with dazzling embroidery.
  • - a plain kimono is coordinated with the vivid juban, with only one shoulder covered (in the pic above, the vivid scarlet color of juban can be seen).
  • - Hakama (袴) style pants. There is no recommended color for these pants.
  • - Hanagasa [(花笠)- a flower-decorated cone-shaped hat that hangs on your back.
  • - in principle, Tekomai make-up is the same as for kabuki (歌舞伎) performers, but it varies.
  • - Hair should be done in the ichomage (銀杏髷) style, basically the same as the one that sumo wrestlers have.
image: Wikipedia

This is very obviously a men’s hairstyle and it is recommended but not mandatory. Instead, it could be yuiwata (結綿), momoware (桃割れ), or chigomage (稚児髷) - they are all female hairstyles.
And in the first photo in this post, as you can imagine, the girls are wearing wigs. Fancy hairstyles are time-consuming and difficult.

Tekomai girls with chigomage hairstyle. This looks like real hair though. Image: Wikipedia

In Tochigi (where we live), tekomai girls wear tenugui (手拭い) - Japanese hand towel made of cotton as a hat. So, no complicated, traditional hairstyle is required in our dasai prefecture. And no wig. Only a towel. Douglas Adams would be proud.

Mom spraying under the hat-towel with cooling spray. It was bloody hot that day. Moka Summer Festival 2009.

A tekomai girl carries “shakujo” (錫杖)- Buddhist ringed staff in her right hand and a portable cho-chin (提灯) - paper lantern in her left hand. The girl’s name is printed on the lantern.

Local Mokan girls leading the procession. As you can see, their makeup is rather subtle when compared with the wiki images.

So, now you know stuff. Next time you attend a matsuri with your foreign guests, or want to impress your local girlfriend, you can show off your knowledge about the funny looking kids in front of the mikoshi procession.
You're welcome.

Tekomai in Utsunomiya. Tennosai 2009.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Swords and unarmed mikoshi carriers

Our unhealthy obsession with Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu in Moka continues. Though this looks to be the last installment. Until next year, of course, when we'll repeat it all over again.
But in the meantime, here is a short little something about the remaining two events you can see during Rei Taisai:
  • - lots of sword waving, and
  • - a mikoshi procession

Let's start with the sword waving bit, OK?

The official name of this performance is “Batto Embu Taikai (抜刀演舞大会)”. Batto (抜刀) consists of forms and techniques of katana (刀 - Japanese sword). There are numerous schools and they all have their own forms of “Batto”. Here “Katana” does not refer to a Suzuki motorcycle, designed by Hans Muth. I love the design of this bike though. “Embu” means (dancing) performance. “Taikai” means game.

This year around 15 "samurai" from four different dojo (道場) - team) were there to compete and show off their mad swordz skillz. It started off with individual performances, but without Simon and Paula Abdul (no competition at this point). It was like an exhibition. Then the group tournament judged by two referees followed. We expected an individual tournament to take place after the group event, but it did not happen this year as it did last year. Maybe they ran out of rolled goza (茣蓙 - tatami mat, a prop to be cut by participants)…

I am not certain about the historical significance of sword performances at Nakamura Hachimangu. How it started, by what reasons, I don’t know, and I’m too lazy to look it up. But one thing that IS certain is that the sword performance is dedicated to Hondawake deity enshrined at Nakamura Hachimangu.

You can take a look at the performance by girl “samurai” here - yes, there is a video for all you fans of Japanese girls with swords!

And here are the men:

Mikoshi Procession

Mikoshi struggling to fit under the torii

You cannot have a proper festival without a mikoshi procession!!! At Nakamura there were two mikoshi; one big one carried by mostly men, and a petite one for females. The big mikoshi was carried by individuals coming from a variety of districts in Moka, and Utsunomiya, as well.

“Hi, buddy I don’t have a gun in my pocket.”

To avoid “gota" (trouble), representatives of each district were introduced to all participants of the mikoshi procession. When the name of your town was called, and if you were the chief, you stepped forward, stood in front of mikoshi, and spread your arms like scarecrow. Don’t ask me why you got to do that. Maybe to show that you were not armed. No gun or knife under your shirts.

At Nakamura Hachimangu, mikoshi is paraded back and forth twice in Omotesando (表参道) that is around 250 meter long, and then the guys carry it back to the shrine. That’s fine with me, because you don’t have to follow the procession around the city.

Here are the videos, lovingly filmed by Mrs Trouble. She likes mikoshi carriers, especially the handsome ones, you know…

But first, for all you geeks who are into Japanese women, here's the ladies' mikoshi. Enjoy!

See? Mrs Trouble has got you covered. No gota from her on this issue!
And now, the boys. In the first clip you can also see the "I got no weapons" part.

And part 2. Here, the boys get ambitious and they actually JUMP with the mikoshi on their shoulders.

It was quite astonishing to watch the big (men’s) mikoshi jumping along to a funny song (note that most of the mikoshi carriers are drunk), which, to the best of my knowledge, is not done in Utsunomiya, or elsewhere in Tochigi.

See, Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu can make for an interesting Sunday. Oh, and one more thing to say. For those who don’t drive, Moka city offers a free bus shuttle service between the shrine and Moka station.

And you'll be very pleased to hear that this post concludes our Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu series.

Thank you for reading the entire “who cares about a local mikoshi festival in the middle of nowhere?” article series to the end.

This is our entire collection of entries about Rei Taisai at Nakamura Hachimangu in Moka: