Aboshi Chouchin Festival 2011

24 Oct

Last Friday I had my first proper Japanese festival. Many festivals are held in October because of harvest season. Two weeks ago I missed our local Shinzaike Festival since I was in Tokyo. Last week I missed the Nada Festival since, well, I wasn’t my peppy self that day. But I did make it to Aboshi, and it was so fun and fascinating it made me regret missing the others.

The whole thing does have sort of a state fair-like mood to it. The streets are lined with tents and booths for food vendors, toys and games. I ate way too much chicken karaage (and found it it’s possible to eat too much chicken karaage). What differs, though, are the main attractions. At the start, groups of volunteers will carry shrines (called the Usuki Hachiman shrine) by crowds of thousands. And it takes 20~30 people to carry these things; they’re huge and heavy, and actually have four drummers inside of them. The people carry the shrines for hours, and I’ve heard it’s not terribly uncommon for devastating accidents to occur. Thankfully, everything seemed safe at this one.

Sorry for the shakiness at times; there were tons of people and I occasionally tried to get closer. If you want, skip ahead to about 14 minutes for the “action” to pick up. When the shrines start moving you can hear the police throw a fit, making sure everyone clears room for them to go by. At some points I had to get pressed up against a wall. The shrines will make sudden movements left and right… and I’m not sure if this is part of the show or if it’s the carriers trying to keep their balance (though I imagine the former).

This video covers the first shrine. Eventually the other two take off in similar fashion.

I was told the symbolism of the shrine carrying originates from a war Japan had with Korea some hundreds of years ago. A Japanese ship was stuck by the dock because of algae that’d accumulated on the belly. So all the sailors got out and lifted the boat up to clean it off, occasionally letting it fall back into the water (which explains the sudden drops). I’m guessing Japan must have won the battle if this is still celebrated, although Japan’s history of trying to conquer Korea isn’t very successful.

After the shrine displays are over, though, comes the lantern smashing.

This is where the Chouchin (paper lantern) Festival gets its name. Held in numerous waves, thousands of paper lanterns on staffs are touted out to smash larger, lantern-like structures, which often seem to have certain themes (I am suspecting they are made by the community). The smashers will surround the larger lantern, singing a tune and thumping their lanterns against the ground with an accelerating beat. Then the song abruptly ends and it’s smashing time. This goes one for two to three rounds before the next big lantern is brought in.

I have no idea what the cultural significance of this event is. But I guess it’s like piñatas meets musical chairs meets… Japan?

All in all it was a fantastic though slightly tiring experience. I also ran into some of my ES students and teachers from the Aboshi area, including the principal who likes to pat my belly. Wouldn’t be a party without him! The only thing to mar the night was that I fell off my bike on the way home and blew the front tire, and had to walk the rest of the way in the rain. But overall still a positive experience!

Enjoy a bunch of additional pictures, including the booths and such.

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One Response to “Aboshi Chouchin Festival 2011”

  1. Theresa October 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Shrines to false gods? Remember, you are a Roman Catholic. love, mom

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