Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Eleven Years In The Waiting

October, 1998.

I am an exchange student at Shimane University, just starting out on a year-long exchange program.

One day in class, the professor mentions a festival held in Matsue known as Horan Enya.

It is famous nationwide as one of the three largest funashinji (boat festivals) in all of Japan.

People come from all over the country to see it.

"Wow," I think to myself. "That's a pretty cool deal. Right here in Matsue. I wonder when it happens."

The professor, with an uncanny sense of timing, says, "Horan Enya only happens once every twelve years, and the last time it was held was last year."


What was the point of even telling us about it then?

Build up my hopes just to bring them crashing down like so many sand castles...rassumfrassumriffumraffum

It's not like I'll ever get to see it.

---Ten Years Later---
("Lost" style)

April, 2008.

I moved back to Matsue, and I realized that Horan Enya, that very festival I missed out on so many years ago, was coming up again in a year.

The word "elation" doesn't even begin to describe how happy I was.

One more year...

---One Year Later---

Saturday, May 16, 2009 - Horan Enya Togyosai (Heading Out Festival)

I get up and head out the door to meet a couple of my students, so we can all go see the festival together.

How stoked am I at this point? I'm randomly shouting out "Woo-hoo!" at the top of my lungs as I pedal my bike down to the river. In a suit, no less, which will be explained in a minute.

The father of one of the students was taking part in the festival that day, and he was (so unbelievably fantastically wonderfully) generous enough to get us good (did I say good? I mean incredible, as in the original "I can't believe this is happening not-credible" meaning) seats to see the whole thing.

Let's put it another way: The festival staff asked us to move away from where we were because they weren't allowing people in that area. I explained that we had been told by one of the participants to stand where we were, and he asked, "Oh, so you're with the shrine?"

Not exactly, no, but explaining would be a pain, so..."Yes."

Our seats were here.

They were such good seats that other people were complaining to the festival staff.

"Why do they get to be down there?" type stuff.

This is Mr. Nishidai, the man who got us our seats.
He was very specific about me wearing a suit to the festival. "I know it's a bit more formal than you may like, but I want you to be able to watch the festival from as good a position as possible."

No worries there, sir.

So now for a little bit of festival background.

The story goes that four hundred years ago, when Lord Horio was building Matsue Castle, the northeastern side of the castle was unsteady and kept crumbling. So Lord Horio decides to have the priest of a local shrine come and bless the castle.

Unfortunately, said priest was OLD. Ancient-like. And he was not in any kind of decent enough physical shape to be able to make the trek from his shrine in Adakaya to Matsue Castle (which is a little over 15 kilometers by land). At this time, though, it was a lot easier to get around by boat in this area than by land. Either way, there was no way the priest was getting to the castle.

The Horan Enya route, missing a bit of the river.


Lord Horio decided to bring the castle to the priest (in a manner of speaking).

He had a portable shrine (mikoshi) prepared, and had the deity of the Inari Shrine near the castle loaded into it (figuratively speaking), and then took a boat entourage on up the river to the shrine, where the priest performed a blessing. After spending a week at Adakaya Shrine, the procession headed back to the castle, blessed deity and all, and Matsue Castle was safely completed without any further problems.

This is apparently the Horan Enya #0 origin story. I've heard it told a few other ways (prayer offering to help the area overcome a famine), but this story seems to be the real deal.

As for why Horan Enya is held every twelve years? Well, my best guess is that it has something to do with the Chinese zodiac, which runs in a twelve-year cycle, and Horan Enya is held every Year of the Cow. (Again, this is only my guess.)

So my students and I arrived at the dock built for the mikoshi a little before 10 AM. Mr. Nishidai grabbed my camera and snapped a quick photo of the inside of the boat where the mikoshi would ride.

(Funny thing. Even though I knew that the festival had a connection to the Inari Shrine near the castle, and I love going to shrines over here, I thought it was merely a boat festival. Boy, do I feel dumb.)

We wait for a bit, with this huge mass of people pressing in from all around. The bridges over the Ohashi River were packed with people, more people than I have ever seen in Matsue ever.

Probably even more people than I have seen in my combined years in Shimane.

Lots. Crowds, masses, throngs. Hordes even.

Then, as 10:30 rolls around, the procession bearing the portable shrine. At least a hundred people (old men, little girls, name it) press into that little area by the dock, and slowly but surely board boats and head out on the river.

Once the mikoshi was on board, they headed out on the river.

And then came the boats.

All sorts of boats.

Big boats. Little boats. Boats loaded down with sake. Boats loaded down with politicians. Boats loaded down with reporters. Motorboats.

And then there were the big 5.




and Makata.

By "the big 5", I mean the five areas of Matsue that get to send out a big decorated boat that has rowers and dancers and singing...they are five areas along the Ohashi River between Matsue Castle and Adakaya Shrine.

Oh, and no women are allowed to ride on these boats, so any people in these pictures that look like women, aren't.

Quick aside: The father of another of my students was the ondotori (rowing song singer) for the Fukutomi boat. I make my students write English diaries, and in hers, she wrote:
Yesterday I went to see Horan Enya. I am from Fukutomi, and my father is the ondotori for Fukutomi's boat. Horan Enya is very cool and interesting, and I wanted to join. But no women can ride on the boat. I thought, "I wanted to be born a man."
That made me a little sad after I read it.

So after all of the boats headed out and things got a little less crazy at the dock, something incredibly cool happened.

Mr. Nishidai, before the festival started, talked to the "captain" of one of the boats being used for ferrying people around, delivering meals to other boats, and other various things (but not actually part of Horan Enya), and set it up so that my two students and I could actually get out on the river and see the festival from there.

To be honest, I'd have been happy just trying to peek over somebody else's shoulders to get a small glimpse of the whole thing. I just wanted to be able to say that I had been there.

And yet, because of the kindness of one person, not only do I get to watch the most important part of the festival up close, I get to get out ON THE FREAKING RIVER and see things without having to fight any crowds at all. Let's just say I was on the verge of tears several times over from just being so darn happy.

And flabbergasted.

So I give you a few more Horan Enya pictures, taken from out on the river.

More pictures can be seen here.
(Hopefully the link works. If not, leave me a message in the comments.)

Next post will be about the second part of Horan Enya, but this is more than enough for today.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your photos and story! I'm glad you got to see the even after waiting so long :)

    Although I couldn't make it to the first and last day, I did manage to take some nice photos on the second day at Higashi Izumo.

    You can see them here:

    All the best,