Fall has officially arrived in Nagoya, bringing not only beautiful foliage (kouyou) and cooler temperatures but also a whole new wave of autumn festivals (matsuri). I am enrolled in the Fieldwork Research Methods course here at Nanzan University. What’s especially rewarding about this class is the opportunity to attend field trips to more rural areas in Japan. During the past two weekends, classmates and I traveled together to Gifu Prefecture and Toyota, where we took part in traditional rituals and festivities associated with the local matsuri.
Two weekends ago in Gifu Prefecture, which is just North of Aichi, was the Osataiko Odori, a festival with dancing and taiko drumming. Festivities involve men beating on fifty-kilogram drums whilst dancing, asking the gods of Shintoism for a successful harvest. Children also joined in the taiko drumming; what was really special was that even a few girls participated, even though the festival is traditionally for men. Drummers, parents, and casual observers were all visibly proud of their town’s taiko tradition. Participants in Japan’s festivals often wear long coats – called happi – and work together as a single group to perform. Watching the drummers, who were dressed in full festival attire (sounds like you are the one in full attire), I began to see the dedication it takes to maintain such a tradition. Everyone I spoke with, including the sensei, several grade school children drummers, and parents, was kind and willing to share what the festival meant to them personally.
On Sunday, we traveled to another rural town, this time near Toyota, to see the Asuke Hachimangu Autumn Festival. Hachimangu is the name for a Shinto shrine; this shrine has a military history, signified by a large horse statue placed outside in front. The festival involves no taiko drumming but is also a harvest festival traditionally for men. Recently, however, because not enough men have been involved, women have also joined. The main event is the pulling of the yatai through the streets. Yatai are wooden tower-like structures constructed without the use of nails the night before. Participants either pull the yatai or dance on its platforms, waving fans and chanting in unison all the way to the shrine, where the procession came to a halt.
The town’s surrounding scenery was beautiful, too; trails wind through forests and alongside a river, where families and festival-goers were relaxing on the banks. As a group we hiked up into the mountains to visit an old shrine; the priest explained to us that this shrine in particular was special in that it has retained original features such as tatami mats and traditional-style doors and windows. For about one dollar and twenty cents, you may have your year’s fortune told. If the fortune is good, you may take it home. If the fortune is not so great, however, you are to leave it at the shrine. Unlucky fortunes were indeed tied in rows onto lines of string. Besides momiji (maple trees), the area is also known for its reconstruction of an Edo-period town, complete with traditional arts, crafts, and games. Of course there are plenty of delicious foods to try along the way, like the kuro-goma (black sesame) soft serve ice cream, mochi with sweet shouyu, and whole skewered fish – perfect for the fall season!
Saturday was Ōsu Kannon’s fortieth anniversary of festival celebration. Ōsu is located a bit southeast of Nagoya Station. The streets are filled with food vendors, various shops and arcades but the highlight is the temple. Friends and I made it to the steps of the temple where a large crowd was already waiting, cameras at the ready. After festival organizers welcomed everyone to the festival, the crowd then turned to the temple gates from where the parade procession emerged. Participants were dressed in colorful kimono and traditional attire, complete with full-face makeup. The parade did not last long, but music and comedy performances, a haunted house, street food vendors, and the lively crowd in general certainly gave us enough to observe all day long.
Fall is a great season, and in Japan the number of festivals all throughout Aichi and surrounding prefectures makes the season even more exciting for students at Nanzan. The big festival events are usually on the weekends, but make sure to look out for fieldtrips posted on the CJS Office bulletin boards. These are more excellent opportunities to chat with students and festival participants! Tomorrow is the Nagoya matsuri, which involves an impressive parade procession from Nagoya Castle all the way to Sakae. There is also a “mochi-throwing” festival – hopefully I can catch a few rice cakes to bring home to my host family for good luck!