Thursday, October 18, 2007

Aki Matsuri -- Part One: Shrine Activities

[This is going to be posted in bite-sized pieces. And not necessarily in order as I have to get some videos off the camera and edit them still.]

Part One: Shrine Activities

Every October our neighborhood has a two-day Harvest Celebration which everyone simply calls the Aki Matsuri -- Fall Festival. The reason I think it's super-cool is because while the local elementary school kids are the main attraction, every single person takes part in one way or another. And I'm talking the extreme elderly all the way down to wee babies...oh, and even pets.

The pictures on my phone were better but you get the idea. Here's a happy pup in his hapi coat. Cha Cha's reaction to me donning him in similar apparel was to shake and bite his way free and then before I could catch him devour a sleeve.

The festival begins and ends at the local shrine. But in between it is one long, rowdy, cacophonous procession of children and adults all duded up in festival clothing, chanting and dancing and pulling an enormous yatai (we'll get to that later) up and down all the streets of our designated neighborhood. To get an idea of how large the area is, we walked six hours both days and still didn't cover it all.

Procession aside for a moment, there is also much fun to be had at the shrine itself. The six am fireworks go off to remind you that you have somewhere to be at nine. That place is the shrine. It's small but lively. There are various booths selling foods, toys, goldfish and beer. And a good number of the men are pretty well hammered by ten am. Which is wonderful when you're out of coins and want to buy something at one of the booths. "Aww~, go ahead, take it! Here, take another. And an extra for your friend there." The children are little masters at that game and soon have their pockets filled to bursting.

Here a little fellow enjoys his shave ice. That is a package of taco balls to his left -- unfortunate name for a tasty food.

Another fall/winter treat is amazake. It's a thick, sweet, steaming drink made from fermented rice. It can contain alcohol in it but this variety doesn't. Every year they make several vats and give it away free to anyone who shows up. If you bring a thermos, saucepan or other container they'll fill it up for you.

Let's not forget the yakitori.

Or the grilled squid.

Inside the shrine they have a large tatami room where special people can go to eat even better food. I found these two pieces of tuna sitting out to defrost.

A week or so beforehand everyone donates some money to the shrine and receives a ticket like this.

You take the top half to the shrine to receive a small box of good luck treats. This year they were pink and white red bean paste cakes. The idea is for every member of the household to take a bite to once more insure luck and health and happiness. Yum!


Anonymous said...

My father-in-law and I don't have much in common, but we made a pretty pair in our jinbei at the local shrine festival beer stand. I really miss those regular local festivals. Much better than just getting a day off for "professional development" or homecoming. I mean, what's Arbor Day all about if people don't party under the trees?

Kappa no He said...

Imomomo: Missed you! I, too, like the way public drunkeness is pretty much a given, encouraged long as everyone is having a good time.

You have a very good point about Arbor Day.

Virginia Lee said...

How fantastic, Terrie! I love learning about festivals in other countries. What sort of shrine is it, if I may ask? A general one? One specific to Shinto or Buddhism? Or is it impolite to ask such a thing?

What do the bean paste cakes taste like? Is there some American/Western food you can liken them to? I've always wondered.

Thanks for sharing this. I can hardly wait for part 2!

Virginia Lee said...

PS I shared this with Miss Mama and she wanted to know about the very relaxed dog in the background of the photo of the ticket. She said, "He's so relaxed!"


Kappa no He said...

Virgina: The shrine is shinto and so very tiny you would hardly know it's there. It seems every area around my town (all Japan?) has a shrine designated to it.

The bean cakes are kinda flakey, cakey on the outside and well, sweet bean paste on the inside. I remember Gillian talked about having a recipe once. I'll have to get one and put it up. I've never seen them in the states but these days there is so many more Japanese goodies being imported, that I would bet they could be found somewhere. They're basically "manju" if you ask for them. Although manju can sometimes have other things inside of them -- all yummy!

Tell Mama that at that particular moment he was pretty high tension and scratching his back, wiggling everywhere. But usually he is a pretty relaxed guy. Tell her she also made me smile for noticing!

Hilary said...

Sounds like a lot of fun and that yakitori looks delicious. Please tell me that it's something innocuous like chicken or pork, and that I'm not drooling over something like snake.

Kappa no He said...

Close! Bird.... I mean, chicken!

Virginia Lee said...

I was hoping it was a Shinto shrine. I may have to utilize your knowledge of folklore and Shintoism one day, my dear. I have a story in which I hope to utilize a few elements of Shintoism within its context.

Yay! I'm floating on air because of this, Terrie. I really am.

Kappa no He said...

Cool! Yes, pick my brain. Gives me an excuse to study more. I tend to lean towards the Buddhist side of Japanese culture. Shinto is so rich though.