Daimo (Samurai) Festival

The Daimo Festival commemorating  the annual walk of the Samurai that paid tribute to the Shogun in Edo, is held every October 15th in Niimi. As it most often falls on a weekday, I was fortunate to get a half day off school to attend. We (Naomi, Alex-ALT and myself) arrived a little early and were escorted to a sheltered area where we either knelt or sat cross-legged on cushions to await the parade. Traditionally, anyone who attempted to rise above ground level during the procession was apparently decapitated on the spot. Small mounds of sand in the shape of a mountain and capped with salt still dot the parade route to better facilitate the cleaning up of spilled blood afterwards. Tactfully I suppose, our host neglected to mention the significance of the sand but Alex, who is pretty well-versed in Japanese culture mentioned it to me.  It seemed as  good an explanation as any other for the sand. Although I didn’t see anyone beheaded on Tuesday (kidding of course), it is still considered good form to remain seated as the procession passes. Hence the low angle of most of the photos I took. I was pleased that my friends Tsukasa and Masa (seen in the photo in front of the shrine) emailed me a couple of photos for the blog!

Alex got the half day off work because some of his students were in the parade. He teaches elementary school so many of his students are quite young. As they passed us it seemed they were quite surprised to see Alex and spontaneously broke ranks with the procession to come over and give Alex a high-five. It was a pretty cool moment that I’m sure Alex appreciated. Along the route the “samurai”,  bearing the shrines that are quite heavy, periodically shake and tip them violently in an attempt to awaken the gods within. It’s understood that among parade participants sake consumption begins rather early in the day at the Daimo Festival so the violent shaking of the shrines seemed as enthusiastic as it was ceremonial.

It was an unforgettable afternoon and, like Alex, I was delighted to be there. Being included in, and given the opportunity to witness a cultural event that dates back centuries and is pretty much totally alien to one’s own experience is an honor. I should point out that the Daimo Festival is no doubt far more subtle and nuanced than I have described but I can only pass on what I’ve heard and read. Suffice to say , it was a great afternoon that I’ll long remember.

But there’s more.

Afterwards our hostess took us on a tour of the very house we sat in front of for the parade. Not particularly auspicious from the street, it was astonishingly beautiful within. Apparently it had been an inn or hotel at one time and dated back to the Edo era (more than 250 years). Although there was nothing to suggest it was in any way a public building, there were rooms preserved with a museum-like attention to detail. Art, china, maps, sculpture and historical artifacts were perfectly displayed in a labyrinth-like building of steep staircases and beautiful rooms. It seems there was a private residence attached to this museum-like building but, not speaking Japanese (yet!); I can’t say. Like so many other places in Niimi, it had a channel of water diverted from the Takahashi River running through it. The river in Niimi courses through the town, sustaining it, like blood through a body. That may sound a tad pretentious but it’s true: I suppose the diversionary channels originally provided fresh water to homes but they now sustain rice fields and gardens and the ubiquitous gurgling water is heard everywhere. Every night I fall asleep to the sound of clean flowing water.

Having had the opportunity to enjoy a Japanese Daimo Festival, it was a pleasure on Saturday (yesterday) to reciprocate I suppose, and assist in helping with the Halloween Party at the Niimi College. Funekoshi-sensei, the teacher I assist in the special needs class (my favorite), has told me that Halloween was unheard of in Japan when she was young. Although they do not “trick or treat” door to door, they do now have parties and Halloween displays are ubiquitous everywhere. Andrew, Nathan, Stacey, Alex, David, and myself pedaled to the college yesterday morning to help out with the party. The kids were were quite young and we read a couple of Halloween books, judged their costumes (everyone got a medal), and handed out candy. Yes, the kids were adorably cute! We had a lot of fun.


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