Friday, October 26, 2007

Aki Matsuri -- Part Two: The Procession

We'll do this backwards. The slowest part of the aki matsuri procession is called the yatai. Here is a picture of what a yatai looks like head on. A sort of house on wheels. But better than a house, it has spotlights, a tape recorder, lanterns, speakers, a couple of generators and a single golden phoenix perched on top to boost auspiciousness. Attached to the front are two extremely long ropes. Ropes for pulling.

Here it is from the side. That fellow up top rides there the entire time (a six/seven hour march Saturday and Sunday). He has a whistle that he blows and a large stick that he uses to push aside tree limbs and telephone wires. He also dances when the mood arises. People below keep him generously supplied with beer and sake. The dancing mood arises more and more as the day goes on.

You can't really tell but the inside is covered in straw mats and several drums. Groups of ten kids take turns riding inside rather than doing the pulling/chanting bit.

Pulling/chanting bit, you ask? Anyone and everyone is invited to pull (and I mean that quite literally) the yatai through the streets while flute music blares from the speakers and someone with a microphone encourages us to work harder. Yea, it can get on the pullers' nerves after say six hours of walking up and down narrow streets, but we get our revenge on the turns. Believe me. He he he.

Below is a picture of one of the yatai's wheels. Wood. Occasionally someone run over and pours a bucket of water on each one so they don't just suddenly burst into flames.

The walking wasn't as bad as I thought. Seven hours! I thought. But in the end we took a lot of breaks. Everything fifteen to thirty minutes we'd stop, dance, the kids would do there druming and flute routine, someone would run around handing out juice, puddings, ice creams, green tea, rice balls or dried squid sticks. But I'll talk more about the stops on the next post.

Eventually the sun goes down and it all lights up. This video was shot in night mode so the colors suck. But the picture below shows how it looked.

Oh and also, my PTA buddies and I were handed lanterns...awesome, tattered, spooky lanterns to carry around.

The yatai is mostly children, moms, grandmas, and grandpas. Fathers and all the other strapping young men take part in the omikoshi. An omikoshi is a kind of portable shrine. Here are two resting outside the temple before they leave.

They are carried through the streets on the shoulders of the men (sometimes woman lend a, shoulder) and visit houses that have donated money or food or drink to the event. Once they get to the house they make a lot of noise, "washoi, washoi!" and shake and heave the jangly omikoshi once again bringing good luck those who reside there. It's all pretty high tension, drunken, boisterous fun. They go before us and kinda let everyone know the yatai is coming.

Here the omikoshi are being put back into the temple for the night.

Okay, next post: the stops we made along the way.