Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Kitcho-san and Shagiri, With a Side of Doso-kai

Day Eight.

Another reason I stayed at Lisa's place and spent a quiet night there instead of going out to the bars, besides the fact that I still felt a little cruddy, was that today was going to be a busy day for me.

Today, I had places to go and festivals to participate in.

So it was out of bed early and into the shower. After I got cleaned up, I biked on over to the Ichibata Dentetsu Izumo Station and caught a train out to Izumo Taisha. I had learned from my experience on New Year's Day that it was best to avoid the roads.

This was going to be my second year to participate in the Kitcho-san Festival, which is held at Izumo Taisha every January 3rd. The area around Izumo Taisha is divided up into smaller communities, and each community sends a "team" to the shrine. Most of these communities have several teams that rotate responsibility for participating in the festival over a series of years. The community I participated with, Otorii, is the only community that sends out the same group every year.

The principal of one of the elementary schools I worked at in Izumo is from Otorii. Principal Kizui invited me to participate in this festival the first year I was there, but as I was going home for the holidays, I couldn't. I asked him to invite me again the following year. He did.

Before I continue, a couple of explanations about the photos.
1) I found out that the problem Blogger has isn't with all photos, just ones I've taken with my cell phone.
2) These photos are from last year, when I was significantly...hairier. But they help with the explanations, that's for sure.

Last year, when I participated in the festival, the Otorii gang told me that I had better be back again the next year. When I finalized my schedule, I called up Principal Kizui and asked if I could join them again this year. He checked, and told me that they were really happy that I was coming back again, and that I needed to be there by 8:30.

I arrived at Taisha just after 8, and headed over to where the Otorii group would be meeting. Just like the previous year, the meeting point (home base) was a small kojin shrine in the center of the community. Unfortunately, this shrine is up a really narrow alley, and I walked right past it without even knowing. I could hear them, I just couldn't figure out where everybody was. I made one complete trip around the Otorii area, and finally figured out where I needed to go just as Principal Kizui called me up on my cell phone to ask me where the heck I was.

I walked over to the shrine, and was immediately hit up with three cups of sake. "Keiki-zuke da." ("This'll liven ya up.") Yeah, or knock me out. I couldn't quite hide my grimace as I kicked each one back. Sake at 8:30 AM is not a good thing. But the two cups of miso soup I had were definitely a good thing. Not only did they warm me up, but they also helped combat three cups of sake on an empty stomach.

They gave me my outfit to wear (see below) and then we got started. The morning festival is called kitcho-san. Kitcho means "good omen", and this festival is held to pray for good fortune for the community for the upcoming year, and also to give thanks to the enshrined deity of Izumo Taisha for watching over and protecting the community.

We started out from the small shrine. In our group, there are some elementary school kids holding on to a rope and walking in front of a cart, pulling it along. A large flag is lain down across the top of the cart, and some adults are helping push the cart from behind. Some other adults are pushing a large taiko drum along on another cart. There are some Japanese flute players, two people playing shimedaiko (small bolted drums), and a group of people who take turns playing on the big drum. The rest of us walk along with everyone else. The coolest part of the procession is the two bannai-san leading us.

A Bannai-san is a representation of a deity that looks (relatively) scary but in reality protects people from evil spirits. Check out this photo. Those two guys were leading our group. The costume is a specially-made kimono. The two guys walk along with large bamboo poles. Those serve as staffs in the morning, but have a much cooler function later in the day.

Three bannai...umm, wait. That would be me in the middle there.

There were a couple reporters from the local cable station filming our group this year, and apparently I made it on Izumo Cable TV.

This year, I was luckier than last year. I was able to avoid most of the "Hey, white boy, have some sake!" that happened last year. The first time around, by the time we finished the morning festival, I was feeling the sake love.

So we start out, and walk down to the main shrine. When we get there, we take the flag and stand it up. People support the flag by spreading out and holding on to support ropes. The wind was pretty strong this year, so I'm sure that was not an easy job. Then, everybody kneels down and the group sings a traditional festival song. After we finish, they take the flag back down and we move on to the next part of the shrine. We also did the same thing at the small shrine when we started out. This process was repeated at five other locations, including Head Priest Senge's house and the Izumo-kyo building to the east of the shrine.

Here's The Otorii group in front of the main shrine of Izumo Taisha.

The older guy with the drum (shimedaiko) gave his job to me this year. I had that little drum around my neck and I played it for two and a half hours. He told everybody that he'd taken me on as an apprentice.

That's all of us again, in front of the shrine gate that leads into the shrine grounds. I'm off to the right.

After we left the shrine area, we walked over to the Taisha Police Station, where, just like last year, they came out with cups of sake for everyone to drink. I never, ever, ever thought that I would get served alcohol by a police officer. I love this place. Our bannai-san couldn't drink any sake because of the mask, so somebody told the cops to go get him a straw.

Here's our bannai-san, drinking sake through a straw. This is quite possibly the most entertaining part of the whole trip. But getting served sake at the local police station runs a close second. The guy laughing on the left side of the photo is Soo-san, who is a frequent customer of Liberate and whose mom runs Sutani Ryokan, a Japanese inn in the Otorii area.

So after we returned back to the shrine we started out from, it was time for lunch...and MORE sake. Ugh. Starting to feel it for real now. I fought it off by eating as much of the lunch as I could, and by having seconds and thirds of miso soup. Oh yeah, I also had to make a short speech at lunch. "For the second year in a row, we have an international flavor to our group. This year, he came all the way back from Hokkaido to be with us today. Thank you, Dustin!" Applause, followed by one of the older members of the group telling me to stand up and say something.

"Thank you. Last year, I was really happy when you guys asked me to come back again this year. I can hardly believe it myself, but here I am. Thank you so much, and if it's okay with you all, I'll be back again next year!"

After lunch, there was about an hour before the afternoon part of the festival started, so I was trying to figure out what to do until then. Who should show up then but Miymi, who lives in the Otorii area. She came over to the shrine, and we talked for a bit. Then, Principal Kizui invited us over to his house for matcha tea. We had some tea and Japanese candy. After a few peaceful minutes of tea and conversation, you could hear the banging of a big taiko drum. Shagiri time!

Shagiri is carried out in the afternoon of the 3rd. The group is smaller than the kitcho-san group. Some people play a rhythm on a large taiko drum while some other people play Japanese flutes. We go around to all of the houses in the community to drive away evil spirits and bring good fortune to every household for the upcoming year. How do we do that? With the assistance of the bannai-san.

One person dresses up in the bannai-san outfit and leads the group around to all of the houses. He walks up to the entrance of each house, throws the door open, steps into the entryway, lifts up that huge bamboo pole and slams the front end of it down on the ground a couple of times, shouting "Akumanbarai!" ("Out, evil spirits!") Of course, before we go around to all of the houses in the community, we go back to Izumo Taisha and go around to all of the different areas we visited that morning.

Heading back to Izumo Taisha's main shrine building with the shagiri procession.

Going back to Taisha is fun, but after we leave Taisha is when the real fun starts. First, we went to the Taisha Police Station, where once again they served us sake. The next stop on the trip was a restaurant/hotel. They served us coffee. But wait, it gets better. The next stop was a soba restaurant. They served us beer. Within the span of about five minutes, we had all had a cup of sake, a cup of coffee, and a small glass of beer. Ugh. Stomach. Not. Happy.

After those three places, we walk around and visit each home in the Otorii community. After the bannai-san does his "Akumanbarai!" bit, the flautists play and someone bangs on the taiko. Every once in a while, that responsibility fell to me. I seem to remember that last year, when I had more sake in me, that rhythm was a lot easier to play.

Bang that drum!

At a few of the houses, I was offered some more sake, which I accepted and drank without too much difficulty. Nothing builds up your alcohol tolerance like a Japanese festival. As we were nearing the last leg of the shagiri journey, I was really feeling it. Unfortunately, Miymi's house was also on the last leg of the shagiri journey. When we got there, her mom came out with a big bottle of sake and a glass of an unhealthy size, which she filled and handed to me, grinning wickedly all the while. I tried to drink it, and actually downed about half of it, but there was no way I was drinking that whole thing. Miymi, who was there with her mom, looked at me and told me to dump it on the ground behind me. Which I did. Her mom then turned around and accused me of dumping out the sake, which I tried to deny. Miymi stabbed me in the back by telling her mom what I'd done. Her mom laughed at me and called me a lightweight.

Once we visited all the houses in Otorii, we went back to the small shrine and put everything away.

The shagiri gang, back at the starting point.

Last year, I REALLY wanted to get a picture taken in the bannai outfit, so as everybody else started heading over to Sutani Ryokan for the post-shagiri party, a few people helped me put on the whole get-up. You can see some of the process in the next picture, and the complete effect can be seen up at the top of this post.

"Hey, Dustin, you don't even need the mask!"

This year, I was hungry, so I headed on over to Sutani Ryokan right away. Another reason was that I was going to have to leave the party early. Why?

Back on December 30th, I got a phone call from Suguru, a former student of mine. He went to Hakuta Junior High when I first started out there, and he was a member of the first class I watched graduate. Those students are all 20 now, and are legally considered adults in Japan. There was a ceremony commemorating their passage into adulthood, and Suguru had organized a class reunion party for the old Haku-chu (Hakuta JHS) gang. When he found out I was in Shimane, he told me to come too. I said I'd do my darndest to get out there and party with them.

I stayed at Sutani Ryokan until about five, drinking and eating with everyone else that went around with the shagiri in the afternoon. They told me I'm an official member of the Otorii community, and they expected me back again in 2007. I thanked them, and then hopped in a taxi back to Izumo Station. From there, I caught a train out to Yonago, where the party was being held.

My old students were really surprised to see me. It was a surprise to see them, too, all grown up and everything. The only problem was that I couldn't remember who some of them were. Since they were my first students, they were also the students I spent the least time with. But after the food and drinks showed up, everybody relaxed and we all had a good time. More than a few of the students brought me drinks, too. It was a real blast, getting together and partying with old students. A little strange, but really fun. I even sang some karaoke with a few of them.

By the time the party finished, so was I. I could still walk and see straight, but there was no way I was drinking any more alcohol that night. I walked back to Yonago Station and caught a train back to Izumo. I was lucky, because I fell asleep on the train but woke up just as we were pulling in to Izumo Station. If I'd have slept through my stop, there would have been problems.

I went and got my bike and then pedaled my butt over to Tsubasa to say hi to Miymi and her mom, since I'd promised I would swing by. Again, all I drank was water. Too much booze in one day.

I finally reached the point where I just couldn't stay awake any more. I paid my bill, said goodbye, got on my bike, stopped at the local convenience store for a bottle of The Power of Tumeric (gotta fight off that hangover before it happens), cruised back to Lisa's place, crawled under the kotatsu, and fell asleep.

End Day Eight.

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