Friday, May 29, 2009

...And Then a Four-Day Wait

Eleven years after first hearing about Horan Enya, I finally got to see it.

Four days later, I got to see it again.

But first, explanation, clarification, and a retraction.

In my previous post, I talked about the reason for the festival beginning as being problems with the construction of Matsue Castle. Apparently, this is not the case, and the actual reason is the one I had originally heard. Namely, that due to a prediction of a poor harvest, the first Matsudaira lord of Matsue Castle, Naomasa, started the festival as a prayer request for a good harvest. Also, it was originally held every ten years instead of every twelve.

Next, some clarification.

Horan Enya takes its name from the song that the rowers sing as they row, which, while it varies a bit between each of the five Godaiji (areas of Matsue that take part in the festival: Omizaki, Fukutomi, Oi, Yada, and Makata), goes a little something like this. (This links to a recording of a practice session by the Makata group in 1985 as posted on the Matsue City Horan Enya homepage.)

All of the boats used in the festival have the names of their respective areas on them, except one name has a slight adjustment. On the Makata boat, before the name Makata, the hiragana character "i" and the kanji "ichi" are both written, and both are used to represent Makata's place as the "number one" boat. "I" (pronounced "e") is the first letter/sound in the "Iroha" poem (which, as you can see in this article, is sometimes referred to as the Japanese ABC's), so it is used sometimes like we use the letter "a" in English to represent a primary position. "Ichi" is the kanji for the number one.

The reason for this is that one year, when the boat from the castle shrine was heading upriver, the weather was particularly bad, and it was in danger of capsizing. Along with being bad for the life expectancy of the rowers, it would have been particularly bad for the deity of the shrine to end up on the bottom of the river. Some fishermen from, you guessed it, Makata saw the difficulties the boat was having, rowed out, and brought them to safety. As an expression of gratitude, Makata has been granted lead boat status in Horan Enya from that point on, and the two characters tacked on before the word Makata represent that special status. (You can see them on Makata's festival wear as well. See the picture below.)

While the Horan Enya festival is known by the name Horan Enya, the official name of the festival is Jozan Inari Jinja Shikinen Shinkosai. Jozan Inari Jinja is the Shinto shrine near Matsue Castle where the whole deal starts out. Shikinen is a Shinto term that refers to a set period of time (in years) that passes until a festival is held again; in this case, twelve. Shinkosai is another Shinto term that refers to a festival where the deity of a shrine is moved from one place to another.

And since I have no idea how to translate the festival title into comprehensible English, let's just stick with Horan Enya.

Although I'll give you the official name anyway.

The next three words in that picture refer to the three parts of Horan Enya: Togyosai - from a term that refers to when a mikoshi heads out from the main shrine, Chunichisai - the "middle day festival" which happens (shockingly) on the middle day of the whole festival, and Kangyosai - from a term that refers to when a mikoshi returns to the shrine it set out from. Togyosai was in the last post, and I wasn't here for Kangyosai, so what's left?


After leaving from central Matsue on the day of Togyosai, the boats from the five areas land near Adakaya Shrine and the mikoshi from Jozan Inari Shrine is taken into the shrine grounds for a week.

The following Wednesday, which is midway through the festival, Chunichisai is held.

In the morning, the boats head out on the Iu River that flows next to Adakaya Shrine, and the singing, dancing and other performances from Togyosai are repeated on this much smaller river.

While it is a weekday, there are still plenty of people who come out to see it.

I gave up on seeing the morning portion of Chunichisai, since I had classes and I didn't want to take the entire day off. Besides, I was looking forward to seeing the afternoon portion more than anything.

In the afternoon, boats are loaded onto carts and paraded through the town streets near Adakaya Shrine, before finally arriving back at the shrine. Once there, each group makes an offertory performance to the shrine's deity. The appeal of the afternoon portion is that boats pass mere centimeters in front of you, you can get a much closer look at all of the people involved in the performances, and the impact of the whole thing is much more forceful than merely watching from the riverbank.

(Please don't think I say "merely" as though it's a bad thing. Trust me, there's more than enough impact "merely" watching from the riverbank.)

A coworker and I headed out after our morning classes were finished (no afternoon classes for either of us on Wednesdays) and made it there before the afternoon festivities started up.

I made it a goal of mine to get a photo of each area's happi (festival vest), as the designs were both colorful and unique.

Another goal while at Chunichisai was to get some photos of a student of mine who was performing the sword dance on the Makata area's boat.

I was successful.

General impressions?

I don't think I've had a smile on my face that big for that long in a long time.

The weather was nice, if a little hot, and here I was again, being able to be a part of something that I had wanted to do since I first heard about it all those years ago in that small classroom at Shimane University.

It's moments like those that make me realize that no matter what minor ups and downs I go through in my daily life, right now I'm where I need to be doing what I need to do.

Things felt right with the world.

It's also amazing to think of how well the traditions involved with this festival have been preserved. Twelve years may not seem THAT long, but a lot can happen in twelve years. The fact that the styles of dancing, the singing, the costumes, everything involved with this festival still continues on is just amazing. Some of these areas don't really even have enough people left to perform in the festival, so they have to call on relatives from other areas to come and help out. And practice for this festival starts a YEAR in advance.

It's just nice to see people dedicated to preserving a wonderful local tradition.

I've blabbed on enough, I think. Besides, words can't do justice to how incredible of an experience the Horan Enya Chunichisai was. I think I'll let my photos do the talking.

A final, peaceful shot after leaving the shrine.