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Friday, October 13, 2006

Harvest Matsuri


Listen to the sound of the calling down of the Gods

harvesting rice There has been a flurry of activity in the rice fields the last couple of weeks as everyone struggles to get the harvest in. Mostly it is done by machine as in the photo above, but if the crop has been flattend by typhoon winds then it must be done by hand.

Now all the work has been done and its time for Harvest Matsuri.

The religious activities of the Japanese year has always been based on the agricultural cycle, but nowadays most Japanese live in cities and have only a tenuous connection to this cycle.

Out here in the sticks though, most households grow rice and so the Harvest Matsuri is the highpoint of the religious year.

Shrine banner A few days before the matsuri, the tall banners are erected in front of the shrine, and shimenawa ropes are strung along both sides of the village streets. Here in the Iwami area, harvest matsuri means all-night kagura.

matsuri fire Every weekend for the next 6 weeks there are matsuri going on somewhere within a short drive, and last weekend we visited 2 matsuris.
The first was in Shimoko, at a very old shrine on the coast near Hamada. We got there at 9:30 just as the kagura was beginning. The Shimoko shrine had a kagura-den, a purpose built stage for the kagura, so most people were sitting outside to watch. As is normal at harvest matsuri a huge bonfire kept people warm through the night.

kagura demon Shimoko doesn't have its own kagura group, so one of the top ranked groups in the area, Odani Shachu, were invited to perform. This was the first time I had seen them perform, and the first word that came to mind to describe their dancing was "seamless". The second dance is always the "calling down the kami" dance, performed to invite the kami to descend and enjoy the festivities. Compared to other dances it is rather slow and ponderous, but when done well, as it was tonight, it is sweepingly beautiful.

kagura demon At 11pm we left and headed into the mountains to Arifuku where another group I hadnt seen before was performing. They performed a new dance that had some wonderful demons in it. At the shrine in Arifuku we were given O-miki, the sake that had been on the altar as an offering to the gods. Usually I am not fond of sake, but I have developed a taste for O-miki, possibly because it is an instance of a genuine gift rather than a calculated, mercenary form of gift exchange that is more usual in Japan.

Buy Beautiful hand-made Obi bags.

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