/ stories
A Night Out On The Town

My eyes opened the next morning and I thought it all must have been a dream. I tried to stand but the sore legs, bruised shoulders, battered arms and the bloodied big toe were proof I had not been dreaming. While pondering the wisdom of a promise made to try anything at least once; a second vow passed through my lips. The next time I think I will try something and the flyer says the entry fee covers insurance I vow that I will think again.

The Autumn Festival was in full swing in central Koriyama, crowds, street vendors, music. The main attraction scheduled is the Omikoshi o katsugu where happy revelers will hoist portable shrines and take the gods out for a night on the town. Previous participants had said this was lots of fun. Carry the shrine, chant “washoi, washoi, washoi”, stop frequently for breaks and drink free offerings of beer, sake and Japanese whiskey offered by the merchants and the crowd. They failed to mention that the gods want to be entertained too so the path is not straight and the toil is just not restricted to the hauling. The portage lasted about three hours including two rest periods. We zigged and zagged sideways across the streets, backwards and forwards, pushed and shoved, spun, twirled and occasionally lofted the shrine as far into the air as we could, catching it as it plummeted back toward the ground; and all for the god’s amusement. I caught on very quickly that I need to lower myself during the tossing since the shrine seemed to always find my shoulders first. The jika- tabi on my feet offered little protection from the small rocks, debris, uneven surfaces, other feet and my own clumsiness. Very soon I had a swollen, sore and bloody big toe to take my mind off of my bruised shoulders.  While I was being dressed my stomach and chest had been wrapped very tightly with a cloth beneath my happi.  The cloth was about 15 inches wide and at least 50 feet long.  I am convinced only this saved me from suffering a hernia.


click for larger view


click for larger view

It was fun especially after consuming several shots of sake chased by beer. Everyone was happy and the crowd's enthusiasm was contagious.  About two hours into the event we entered one of the large shrines to be blessed. After the blessing we emerged onto Sakura Dori where the vehicular traffic remained unrestricted and we fell into a line of cars right behind a city bus. What an odd site this must have been to any western eyes peering out from the crowd. The Omikoshi became almost unbearably heavy as we waited for the traffic light to change. When the light finally turned green we ran down the hill behind the bus hoisting the shrine in a most resplendent albeit haphazard fashion. It kept racing through my mind all the ways to apologize when I stumble, become trampled and possibly bring the entire parade to a most memorable conclusion.

We managed to return the Omikoshi unscathed, I made it home, cleaned up, doctored the toe and fell asleep with sweet chants of “washoi, washoi, washoi” dancing in my head and good Japanese whiskey coursing through my veins.