The villagers who play drums are all children in my nearby shrine’s case. They used to be boys only, but girls are welcomed these days because of the decrease in the number of children.
Male parishioners who are crazy about playing drums teach kids how to play. Kids get together nightly to practice drumming.
When the gigantic earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region, the way the survivors cooperated with each other without being overcome by panic surprised the world. Their efficiency was in stark contrast with the incapability of the politicians and government officials.
One of the reasons the survivors acted so orderly might be that the people in rural areas are used to cooperating with each other for festivals, volunteer fire corps, and other voluntary activities.
I, who grew up in a new residential area in a big city hadn’t been aware of this side of Japanese society until I left home. There weren’t any festivals where I was brought up since there were no shrines. Volunteer fire corps didn’t exist because there were governmental ones.
The Japanese who live in rural areas dedicate much of their time and energy to their communities. Shishimai performers devote a considerable amount of their time practicing shishimai.
When the shishimai was finished at yesterday’s festival held at my nearby shrine, kids queued up to have their heads bitten by the lions (shishi) as you can see in the middle picture. By getting bitten by the sacred animal, kids are supposed to be able to enjoy good health.
Can you see the guy standing behind one of the lions? He had played the rear of a lion. Shishimai is danced by two men: one is responsible for its head and the other the rear. These men looked happy after the dance. When they saw the kids’ smiling faces, they might have felt that all of their hard work had paid off.
The autumn festivals are held to express our gratitude to gods for a successful harvest. Since they are Shinto rituals, they need priests. However, the shrines in the village I live in don’t have priests, so a priest who resides in a different shrine in a neighboring town comes to conduct the rituals. Priests get busy because many shrines hold autumn festivals on the same day. You can see the priest hurrying off for the next shrine in the right picture although the shishimai is still being performed before the gods.
When the ritual is finished, naorai (直来) begins. Naorai means having the food and drink that have been offered to the gods. By sharing the offerings, we are supposed to be purified. However, I witnessed some villagers start drinking while shishimai was still being performed.
All in all, Shinto festivals don’t look like solemn religious rites. Carrying a mikoshi (御輿/portable shrine) and playing drums excite the parishioners. Having a meal and sake with neighbors must be a fantastic way to wrap up a busy yet fun festival weekend.
Thank you for reading.
Since it’s a long entry, I’d appreciate any corrections even on a small part of it.