Monday, October 09, 2006

Tsushima Autumn Festival

A couple of weeks ago, dad came for a brief visit. Luckily he's been to Japan a couple of times now, so there wasn't the usual pressure to experience as much of Japan as possible in a few days. He's been to many places but hadn't yet experienced a Japanese festival. I thought it was about time to change that.

We jumped on a train and headed off for Tsushima. While it was quite an easy journey, I still felt the stress of being a guide and going somewhere I hadn't been before.

When we arrived to Tsushima, it didn't have a festival day feel to it, but we trudged off to the shrine anyway. On the way, we saw one float, or portable shrine being taken out of storage and polished. The float was 300 years old the local men informed me.

Even before we saw the impressive vibrant red gates, we knew we were going in the right direction due to the flute music playing a festival song that was drifting down the streets. Like in the story of the Pied Piper, I'm drawn to that sound.

Towering above the small festival crowd were two startling floats. Sitting in the bottom level, hidden by exquisitely embroidered curtains were the source of the music. Children playing taiko drums beat the rythym for cat-stangling sounding flutes. Perched high above them were puppets clad in colourful traditional clothes. Hidden between the two levels was a dexterous puppeteer.

Dad and I then followed one of the floats as it was wheeled through the streets. Once a corner had to be turned, the men tilted it to a precarious angle and very slowly, with lots of grunting swung it around.

We were befriended by one of the shrine pullers. He told us a little of the history of his float and poured us beer. I tried to refuse the beer, but was told that it didn't matter if I didn't drink, I still had to drink that day in order to purify myself for the Gods. Well, if that's not a good excuse to drink.....

Beer in hand, we watched the magic of the puppeteer. A brush loaded with fresh ink had been placed in the puppet's wooden hand and its manipulator had hidden from view in the floor below. The music began once more and the puppet began to move. With more co-ordination than I think I have, the doll carefully wrote the God's name on a mounted piece of paper. Once the calligraphy was complete it was let fly and handed to the Shinto Priest who later gave the offering to please the god.

I really have fallen in love with the festivals in Japan. I think it's due to the sense of history, tradition and the true feeling of celebration; celebrating life, celebrating the change of seasons and celebrating the fertility of the land.

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