Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Well I am sure you are wondering what Washoi means. So, let me hit you up with the story but 1stI will fill you in as the day went from beginning to end so the answer will come but not until you read a little.
Here I was walking down the street in my neighborhood, Shinkawa, in downtown Tokyo. It was Saturday morning and I was on my way to see Noriko my good friend from Emporia State University. She had agreed to take me to Kamakura, a beautiful little city South of Tokyo on the Eastern coastline. I was running late and was not sure where I was going. But I had a good map. As I got close to tuning the corner I noticed four girls and a man walking and taking pictures. The girls were dressed in some kind of traditional dress and so was the man. So I took out my camera to take a picture. Before taking it I was interrupted by the gentleman saying, "Hey, are you a tourist?" My reply was, "No, I just moved here and live there" pointing to my new place. He was surprised and then asked me another question. "Do you want to participate in our celebration tomorrow?" HELL YEAH, I thought but replied with, "Sure, that sounds like a great time, what do I need?" He told me I would need to get some traditional dress for men and then all would be fine. But, he needed to ask the elders first. He approached them and they looked at me, smiled and said in Japanese, "He will need the proper clothing and shoes" AJ, the man I met asked, "Can you meet me back here at 5?" I knew i could so I got his number and off I was to meet Noriko.....late still as I mentioned.
So, I get to the Tokyo station and after wondering around in a huge place full of people I find Noriko. We catch a train and head off to Kamakura. Now let me set up how this place looks. It was a hot and humid day like always in August. This humidity is nothing I have felt before. Now, you know I am from Kansas and it gets humid and hot. I've been to Houston and it still is not even close. New Orleans.....closer but not the same. We take the air conditioned train to the town stop and walk a see the temple that hold one of the two giant Buddha in the area. We walk up several stairs looking at ponds, trees, caves and shrines. Some shrines dedicated to children lost during the pregnancy and other shrines dedicated to money and wealth or safe driving.
We arrive at the top of the hill and there is this beautiful temple holding and amazing Buddha. I couldn't talk any photos of it because it was not allowed but it was huge. 30 to 40 feet high and bright, shiny gold. Amazing! We looked toward the coastline to see the people on the beach and then headed down to get some food.
We continued on to our next spot and that was another shrine with a larger Buddha and outside for all to see. This time I was allowed to take photos. I was even allowed to climb inside, which was a bad idea. Remember I said it was hot and humid....well inside that place it was about 20 degrees hotter and 20% more humid. Making it about 125 degrees inside....it felt like that. So got the frick out of there. I stopped at the local gift shop and picked up a key chain for my new place and we headed down the road to the next stop.
This time we were off to meet some friends in Kawasaki. My friend Noriko wanted me to meet some local friends to spend time with after she went back to L.A. We had a nice time drinking and talking. I practiced some Japanese with the kids and then had to get back to meet AJ.
Train ride back alone and there is AJ waiting for me. This time I am on time. I didn't want to miss getting the clothes for the festival. So, to hurry things up......I got the clothes...found the size 13 shoes and was set. This is what I got to wear. But there is more!!! AJ decided to take me out to dinner with his 2 daughter and two of his work colleagues. Which I think they want me to try and date. But that is another story. They took me to a traditional Japanese place not far from my apartment. You get to sit and cook your own food on a large teflon grill. It was very good and so much fun. Part of the traditional meal is that the women pour the drinks for the men. So I held out my glass and it was full again with beer. ( Video coming)
The Omikoshi (portable shrine) needs to begin to move at 6:00am. I woke up at 5am and went down for some sticky rice and some soup to begin the day. I was told I needed lots of energy for carrying the 1,500 pound Omikoshi. It had four 20 ft poles attached to the bottom of the omikoshi. It would take about 40 men to carry this thing for 18 kilometers. That's about 12 miles. We began the march at 7:00 and walked in short, tiny steps saying with men blowing whistles to keep the rhythm. WASHOI! (beep,beep) WASHOI! (beep,beep) for 13 hours. Yeah 13 hours. Now, I didn't carry it the whole time but I bet I was under the poles supporting the massive weight of the omikoshi for have the time if now more. I can remember seeing 3 sets of people leave while i stayed marching. You can't put the shrine down to switch people. You look for the sad, tired face and make eye contact. He jumps out and you jump in. This goes on all day long.
This festival was known as the water Omikoshi Water Festival with 57 shrines. We had 400 people in our group. There were 56 other groups this size, smaller or even bigger. The festival is only the third largest in Tokyo. The Omikoshi is marched around town to cleanse and wash away the bad spirits. People are everywhere lined up and down the streets waiting to throw water on us. The festival only happens once every three years. So I was very lucky to participate and I was one of only 3 gaijin (foreigners) that I saw. But, I didn't just get to carry the shrine peacefully. We stopped, spun it around and shook it up and down, up and down and up and down again then held it high above our heads while people plashed us with water and firemen sprayed us with streams of water 50 feet high. Needless to say, I could not bring a camera so I don't have pictures, but AJ did make a video that is an hour long. He also has some pictures and I will get them on here as soon as I can get them from him. His camera was waterproof so they are some fun pics.
How did I feel, you may ask? Unbelievable is all I can say. I had be thrown into the Japanese culture feet first. I have not had not had that much fun in a long time. After it is all over we go back to our shrine put it down and take a break at Noon. Then go back for another 5 hours after a 30 min lunch break.
Finally when all over and the shrine is put away to dry.....WE DRINK BEER!!!! I met some great people. Maki, Hero, Baxter and others. We talk and sing and have a good time. The locals saw me and were happy I was there. They welcomed me into the community and I was proud and honored to have been apart of their traditional and sacred festival that has gone on for more than 300 years. Thank you, AJ for asking me to be apart of you family's celebration.