This is one of my favorite things that I’ve been apart of since I’ve been here in Japan. This is the Souhei Matsuri: a festival put on by my town to bless the businesses in our mountain’s resort area. I was asked if I wanted to carry the women’s shrine for the festival and I reluctantly said yes. Did I really want to carry a heavy shrine, up the mountain, for who knows how long? Even up until the hours before the festival, I was thinking about how I’d rather just watch, but I’m so glad that I wasn’t a bystander. This was such an amazing experience and I would definitely be apart of it next year if I have the chance. Even as I write this post, I’m still so happy about everything about this festival.
We got dressed into the festival, shine carrying outfits. I love how they tied the bow because it made me feel like a butterfly princess. It was really cute. After we were dressed, we were driven to the starting point of the shrine route. Underneath a shrine, we were blessed by a monk, before starting our journey back to the main festival area.
Then we were off! We stopped in front of various businesses, giving them our blessings. We were also given a few rest stops and free food (gotta love the free food!) to help us with our energy.
I overhead my co-worker say that we walked about 2km (about a mile) with the shrine, up and down hills, then back up to the main area. That’s a long way, but thankfully, it didn’t feel as far, with the little breaks we had. Throughout the whole time, I felt like a celebrity because so many people were watching us and taking pictures. It was so much fun and there’s no way I would ever have the opportunity to do something like this back at home. Sometimes you need to take that leap outside your comfort zone and do things you never thought about doing, because they may just be a once in a lifetime experience.
The most exciting part about this festival is the men’s shrine. Near the end of the shrine route, they light it on fire and by the time they make it to the end, the whole thing is in flames. It was such an amazing sight and was giddy like a little kid, because it was so exciting. I am happy that ours isn’t on fire though, because that would have been… hot…
I’m still in awe that I was able to make it through the entire festival carrying a heavy shrine on my shoulder, but it was a lot of fun and I was able to bond with some of the ladies on the JET Program. I’ve learned my lesson about volunteering for events: just do it (isn’t that a slogan for something… Nike?). No, seriously though, just do it. You may never know what amazing stories you’ll have to tell after the fact. Don’t let a mountain and a heavy shrine keep you from having a once in a lifetime experience, because these are the moments you live for in life (I’m trying to pep talk myself and whoever else wants a pep talk at the same time… so I’m not sure how that’s working out…).
This is my life. This is my life in Japan and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
My city’s Obon Festival was last weekend, which is a custom to honor the spirit of one’s ancestors. My co-workers helped us get ready, putting together the yukata and tying the obi. Many Japanese women these days don’t know how to tie an Obi the correct way and end up buying a pre-tied bow. Unfortunately, it seems like this is a custom that may eventually fade away unless people start taking more interest in learning how to do these practices. It’s so beautiful the way the bow is tied. During the Obon Festival, there are a ton of street food, games, and performances for everyone to enjoy. Near the end, everyone got together in the center of the area to dance Obondori together. These dances are in memory of people’s ancestors. Even though I didn’t know the dances, I still joined in and followed along. My co-workers were really happy to see that we were participating in these dances. I had a lot of fun dancing and wearing the yukata.
This has been my home for two weeks. I live in a town with about 40,000 residents. The majority of this town is made up of rice fields and mountains. However, I live right off the main road, which a lot of shops and restaurants. It’s really convenient since I don’t have to walk very far to get to the market, the train station, or to the town hall.
This week, I walked to a park next to the town hall, where I’ve been working. I crossed the bridge over a non-existent river to the park. The library (where I’ll definitely find myself studying someday soon!) and this park are next to the town hall. There are some onsens (hot springs) right in my city, located next to this park. I wouldn’t be able to take pictures of that onsen (nakedness everywhere!), but in the middle of this park is a foot onsen. People dip their feet into the water and relax. This area is really nice and peaceful to be in.