Most Western tourists who come to Japan tend to fall in love with the temples and shrines here. I guess it’s because Shintoism and Buddhism seem exotic to us, who are more used to Christianity and Gothic cathedrals. 7 months later, I still marvel at every little temple I pass.
I hold a special affection for the tiny Gomo Shrine, located a few steps down the hill from our dormitory. This week they hosted a lovely little festival for the local community.
For the past month, every Sunday I could hear children practising a melody to be played at the festival and inside the mikoshi – divine palanquins that get carried by people. The actual festival lasted for three days, and from afternoon until midnight I could hear a buzzing crowd follow these mikoshi around, chanting “ose ose ose” or “mawase mawase”. The first, “ose”, means “push”; “mawase” means “turn”. The divine palanquins are carried by several people, with others riding on top and inside, and crowds love to watch them go at a fast speed or perform difficult turns in the narrow Japanese streets.
Our dormitory is located on a high hill, just above the temple, and the community that celebrated together gathered all the way down the hill, which normally would be a 15 minute walk. There were stalls with all sorts of toys, snacks, and beverages – I was amazed at how much the quiet area transformed on a Tuesday while I was at university. I joined the celebrations in the evening, and was immediately swept up in the company of friends and acquaintances, and given lots of free drinks and food. There were four palanquins in total, and at around 9 pm we all gathered to watch them being carried up the hill, accompanied by music and chanting. There was something magical about that night – the spirit of the community, being with my friends, my head spinning slightly from the drink, and chanting “mawase mawase” at the top of my voice. I’m so happy I got to witness this small, local festival, and to be part of it.
The timing of the festival was no accident – it was around the middle of the so-called Golden Week. In Japan, about 5 different national holidays all take place very close to each other, which normally forms an entire week off work or studies (though this year we were unlucky and it was broken up by work days on Monday and Tuesday). I remembered about the Golden Week too late (in early April) and the prices for destinations both in Japan and abroad were triple or quadruple the normal. It all turned out for the best – I stayed home, spent time with friends and catching up on movies and books. Others went off to Okinawa or even South Korea, or on hitchhiking adventures. And now I feel almost ready to go back to classes tomorrow!..