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!