Sunday, October 21, 2007
Kagura dancing the night away
Where all the action is: the Shinto shrine next door to our apartment building.
I was lying down reading a book Saturday night when a lively flute melody and rhythmic drumming began drifting through our open back door. Walking to the end of the hall and peering down onto the street, I saw crowds of people streaming toward the Shinto shrine next door. The streets teemed with small children laughing and playing. Suddenly I understood why huge flags had been placed at the shrine's entrance over the past week and why lanterns had been strung up earlier that evening. Not wanting to miss the fun of the matsuri (festival), Joe and I grabbed our cameras and headed downstairs.
It was a short walk down a side street and through the red torii gate into the center of the action. To my delight, dancers wearing elaborate costumes and masks were twirling and jumping all over a stage that had been set up.
Pounding drums sent an energy pulsing through the crowd. I buried my hands in the pockets of my toasty hoody, inhaled the scent of incense floating through the crisp night air and stared, mesmerized.
This is a dance known as kagura (dance of the gods), a sacred purification ritual that has been performed since ancient times to thank the gods for a bountiful harvest. Often the dance tells a story or illustrates an old fable. Folks around the city enjoyed these performances at the half dozen matsuri celebrations held at local shrines on Saturday night.
The shrine's main hall was next to the stage. Inside, children rang a golden bell and offered prayers.
After drinking up the festivities and snacking on a warm meat bun being sold at a food tent, I headed back across the street to my apartment and went to bed.
At 9 a.m. the next morning I woke to the thunderous booms of fireworks. Soon the drums resumed. Bleary eyed, I peered outside and saw crowds of children in blue happi coats parading around our apartment carrying these omikoshi (portable shrines) on poles.
Trying not to feel like a gawking tourist, I pulled myself away from my futon mat and made my way back downstairs. The kids greeted me with cheery calls of "herro!" as I watched in fascination. Every so often they'd pause and heave the omikoshi up and down while yelling something together in Japanese.
This violent shaking apparently is supposed to be entertaining to the kami (gods) that live within the shrine. I don't know if the gods were very entertained with that kind of treatment at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning, but I have to say I actually enjoyed it quite a bit.
And on a side note, I did witness that guy in the scary red mask terrify a little girl being cradled in her father's arms. She started screaming. Her dad just laughed.