Kick the Tires, and Light the Fires

Two concurrent festivals are celebrated at Kashima Jingu Shinto shrine each September.   Kashima Jingu is one of Japan's largest shrines.  Believed to have been established in 660 BCE, it includes some 160 acres of land with gates, religious buildings, various martial arts dojo,  tea houses, deer (Kashima means "deer island" and deer are considered to be messengers from the gods), and a forest with over 10 varieties of trees, some of which are over a millenium old.  It is an island of serenity surrounded by the bustling "sea" of the city.

On September1st is Chochin Matsuri (lantern festival) and later on the 1st as well as on the 2nd is Jinko-sai (God's Blessing Festival).

The streets leading to the shrine are lined with vendors selling junk food, toys, and games.

During Jinko-sai, the object of worship of the shrine (a bronze mirror) that is usually kept in the main hall of worship, is placed in a smaller building.  The god - in Kashima Jingu's case, Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto, god of martial arts - visits during this time.    The Lantern Festival is held on the 1st as well, to offer light to the Jinko-sai.

Paper lanterns (chochin) adorn tall bamboo poles that are bound with rope at the base and carried through the streets of Kashima.  Each of the 14 districts in the town builds a tree and has a team that carries and (hopefully) controls the heavy, and often unwieldy, structures through the use of ropes and poles attached to the central bamboo mast.    It gets tricky when they have to duck under a telephone line and occasionally a tree will come perilously close to the onlookers (I was hit by lanterns in 2005).  It is considered good luck to obtain a lantern from the procession.   At the end of the day, the lanterns are carried into the grounds of the shrine and burned on bonfire.   

Advertisements of businesses are displayed on posters around the base of the bamboo.

When not carrying the tree along, the crew must keep the tree upright - a difficult task when the wind blows.  At times someone must climb up to untangle some lanterns.

Meanwhile, the shrine's five Jinko-sai floats are pulled through the streets and brought to a central intersection for everyone to see.  The floats are made of wood, including the wheels and weigh several tons.  One of them is over a century old.   They are moved by brute force - two large poles are used as brakes and for leverage for turning, and locomotion is provided by hoards of people pushing or pulling.  Dieties and historical figures adorn the top of each float - cleverly built to retract in order to duck under obstacles like telephone wires.

After the parade, at the central intersection, the floats are arranged  on the cross streets so that each may take a turn being moved to the  center of the intersection and rotated as musicians on the float play  flutes, drums, and gongs.


But before that, there are songs played to which the crowd dances.    As with Obon,  there are young and old alike taking part, though K remembers there being more children in the past.  Both are fun,  but unlike the relatively sedate Buddhist dances of Obon, Shinto festival dances are loud and raucous.

[For pics of the 2005 festivals, please see my September 5, 2005 post: "Lantern Festival".  And for a comparison with Buddhist dance, see the 2007 post: "Kashima City Furusato Matsuri"]

1 comment:

Martin J Frid said...

Amazing photos. Thanks a lot for sharing.