Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Helping a Festival

An English Translation
Today what free time I had, I worked on an English translation for a local Japanese festival. I thought I would post the information and links. There will be more photos and stories after the event. This is the festival's first web page, and I am happy to help in some small way with their English component which is not yet uploaded. The photos are our photos from years past.

The Matsuri Festival
The Kamakura Gion Omachi Matsuri commemorates and gives thanks for the founding of the Yakumo Shrine, a Shinto shrine, within the Omachi neighborhood of Kamakura. This grand festival is held annually on the second Saturday of July and continues for three days, during which time four mikoshi or portable representations of the shrine are carried through the local streets. The festival is said to have begun in 1349. 

The Yakumo Shrine was established in about 1082 to protect the people of Kamakura from epidemics often associated with the rainy season. Yoshimitsu Minamoto, the founder, was inspired by the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto- originally known as the Gion Shrine thus the name of the festival. The Yakumo Shrine has four mikoshi, the oldest of which was constructed in 1742. Since 1860, local residents have been organized to care for and maintain these portable shrines. The mikoshi are very heavy so the weight is shared by the group with additional carriers following behind to step in as needed. The weight of the mikoshi is unknown because it is blasphemy to weigh a deity, but it is estimated to be about 1500 kg to 2000 kg (3300 lbs to 4400 lbs).

Owatari is the daytime procession of the mikoshi on the first day of the festival. The mikoshi is carried by men attired in hakuchou , traditional shrine work attire consisting of a white gown and a black hat. The approaching mikoshi is announced by the ohayshi, a large taiko drum, that leads the procession through the neighborhood. As the drum sounds come closer, neighborhood residents wait in front of their homes to greet the owatari procession. As it passes, it is customary to make a monetary offering to the local deity enshrined in the mikoshi as a purification ritual. An offering box saisen-bako with the chief preist follows the mikoshi for this purpose. It is also common for parents to pass under the mikoshi carrying their young children to pray for the child’s safety and healthy growth which is known as mikoshi-kuguri. You might also spot Tengu (red mask) who acts as a bridge between the spirit world and the human world.

Mikoshi-buri or shrine shaking is the evening procession, illuminated by candle lanterns, of the mikoshi at the Omachi crossroads on the first day of the festival. The mikoshi is carried by men and sometimes women attired in happi coats and handako white short pants. The event culminates in an impressive show of strength and teamwork as all four mikoshi are tied together and processed through the Omachi neighborhood as a single unit.

Tenno-uta (song sung during the mikoshi-buri) originally came from Ise-ondo, a song sang by carpenters who specialized in building Ise Jinguu style shrines. The melody become much more "bluesy" than the original one.

Visitors attending the mikoshi-buri are considered purified and blessed through their participation and viewing of this traditional event. Matsuri is the Japanese word for festival or holiday. Neighborhood festivals mark events in the life of a community both secular and religious in Japan. There are no specific matsuri days for all of Japan. Yukatas are the traditional attire for this event. One can always find in the vicinity of a matsuri, booths selling souvenirs and food such as cotton candy or takoyaki, games, such as goldfish scooping, and other forms of entertainment are often organized in conjunction such as an exhibition of local children’s drawings.

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