Saturday, October 3, 2009


This Thursday I got to experience on of the most unusual festivals ever- Oshiko Matsuri. At least that's what the name sounded like to me. When I arrived at my afternoon school on Thursday, Ai Elementary, I was informed that I should expediently finish sixth period and then scuttle off to the festival. Now mind you, I had no idea what festival they were talking about or where it was. They pleasantly said I should just look for the crowd of people and follow them. Oh, dear.
Luckily Fukuda-san saved me. Just as I was steeling myself to leave my apartment and wander aimlessly around Ai, she called me. I walked with her and her husband over to a local shrine I had run past several times before but never really took any notice of. Here they are with a small boy who face bombed my picture. Too cute. I especially like the heeled slippers Mr. Fukuda-san is wearing- the kind especially favored by older local men around here. Tee hee.

The men of Ai gathered in their traditional robes with their sleeves tied up- obviously there was some work to be done. Fukuda-san told me that in Shinto religions women are not really welcome to participate in festivals. "How sexist!" I thought. Until I saw what the men proceeded to do.
The Oshiko-matsuri centers around an object called the o-mikoshi. A mikoshi
神輿 is a small portable shrine that is said to house the local deity. This shrine has two mikoshi- a fancy laquered and painted one and a plain but sturdy wooden one ready to get down and dirty. After giving donations to the priest and partaking in some godly sake and uncooked rice, we were ready to begin. Four villagers started carrying the plain mikoshi away from the shrine through the main gate. Then, much to my surprise, the high priest pushed it down the stairs into the crowd of village men. On the right you can see the men of Ai attempting to crush each other to death. I still am not entirely sure what the purpose of this is. Another lady tried to explain that if a man can get the kami out of the shrine it will bring him and his family honor. But that doesn't explain the men on the outside of the circle pushing the other guys. See that turban man in the suit? His job is to push people. I was seriously confused. Every few minutes the mean would start shouting and as a group heave to the right as if they were trying to pull something out or pick up the shrine. But nothing ever happened. About ten minutes later the high priest climbed on top of the men and waved a flag. And that was that. The fight disbanded, and the men were returned to their wives. Mr. Fukuda-san's toenail had somehow been ripped off (although his plan was to stay on the outskirts of this shindig he said he accidentally got shoved inside). His kimono was also ripped. But he said this wasn't so bad- many years ago the men were actually supposed to try and CATCH the mikoshi after it was pushed down the steps, but too many people died or were seriously injured. So now they just try and crush each other, and suffer some scrapes and bruises gladly. The fancy mikoshi was carried from the shrine through the main gate away to a clearing where the priests started praying around it. The tired men were given some holy sake and some raw beans that were supposed to purify the body. (During this festival followers are not allowed to eat meat- hah! Take that, carnivores!). The priests are the guys on the left in the white with black hats. We stood for a while and watched while they prayed and ate, but then decided it was time to leave. The Fukuda's treated me to a delicious dinner feast- the table was set with sushi, sashimi, tempura, boiled vegetables, and so much other food I expected a small army to pop up and dig in at any time. Not to mention beer and several bottles of sake. How many people showed up in total? Ten. Two of them girls under seven. The Fukudas sure know how to set a feast. On the left is the adorable boiled vegetables known as sansai 山菜 eaten often in the Buddhist tradition of shōjin ryōri. Tiny spiral ferns? Bows of Wakame? How cute!

in the back is Baba- Mrs. Fukuda-san's mom, then on baba's right are Mr. and Mrs. Fukuda. On baba's left are Mrs. Fukuda's older sister and husband. Later another sister and her two grandchildren showed up, and the Fukuda's eldest son Chihiro and his wife stopped by as well.
We chatted the night away and the conversation got more and more confused and lively as the night went on. Chihiro and his wife were infinitely amused by the American pronunciation of the word "cheeseburger" and asked me to repeat it several times. I played string tricks with the girls and they were astonished that we do them in America as well. "Unbelievable" to quote Chihiro.

I talked later with Nozomi-san (Non-chan for short), a local girl with whom I've made friends, about this festival. She said that the Japanese put less value on small injuries to their bodies than they do the spirit of community and festivity. So they are glad to suffer a broken toe or scratch as long as everyone is together. "It's kind of strange, isn't it?" she said.
Strange, maybe. But cool? Definitely.


  1. String tricks! Thanks to this post, I hacked off a length of yarn and started trying to remember Jacob's Ladder. Would you believe the muscle memory is still there? I feel like I remember doing that one on the school bus in Pittsburgh.

  2. Wow! How completely different from our festivals! Thanks for the great documentation! Love it.