Nanae’s Summer Festival: Carrying the O-Mikoshi

Photo by Emi Kimura

By Ben Mirin, CIR

August 8th, 2011

Nanae’s new Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) and Concord native Ben Haydock arrived sweaty and exhausted at Hakodate airport on July 28th.  He had a full week of festivities for the Hakodate Port Festival to look forward to, but his true initiation as a member of the Nanae community would not come until the following week.

Five hundred pounds, dripping with golden chains and clamoring bells, Nanae’s O-Mikoshi (mobile shrine) emerges from the stores of Nanae’s Mishima Shrine only once a year, on the shoulders of two-dozen men.   At 7:30am on August 8th, Ben and I suited up in traditional happi robes and joined twenty other local volunteers to carry this cherished relic up and down the streets of Nanae for the town’s annual Summer Festival.

“After dancing the Ika Odori (squid dance) in the Hakodate Port Festival, I didn’t entirely know what to expect from Nanae the following week “ Ben said.

“I knew we would be carrying something heavy, but it wasn’t until we started down the street, with the O-Mikoshi in tow, that I realized my role in this festival was more as a laborer than as a carefree festival goer.”

O-Mikoshi all over Japan travel annually among the neighborhoods that worship at the Shinto shrines where they are kept year round. They serve as vehicles for particular Japanese Shinto deities, traditionally believed to reside in the principle shrines themselves.  As they are bourn along the avenues of their respective districts, the O-Mikoshi spread good fortune to deferential residents who emerge from their homes and shops to pray and offer donations that support the festival for the following year.

Photo by Emi Kimura

That day our task was to cover all of Honcho, a district in Nanae that proved far larger than either Ben or I had imagined.  At eight o’clock sharp, we shuffled into place around the O-Mikoshi’s wooden supports and prepared to march as five pairs of Yakko, or fan-bearers, took their places at the front of the procession.  They carried long staves capped with masses of decorative feathers.  Two by two they stepped forward and, swooping down to a crouch, swung these ornaments low over the ground with choreographed precision.   They were clearing a path for our shrine to travel.

Photo by Yuki Tanaka

The last of the Yakko moved off, repeating their ritual every few meters.  The veteran marchers began shaking the O-Mikoshi enthusiastically to set the mood for the festive procession.  This continued for several minutes until a shout came from the front of the group.  As one we hoisted the O-Mikoshi over our heads and marched forward from beneath the shade of Mishima’s iconic curving rooftop. Continue reading “Nanae’s Summer Festival: Carrying the O-Mikoshi”

Nanae Hosts Fukushima Kids’ Summer Camp

photo by Ken Ikeda

By Ben Mirin, CIR

July 27th, 2011

NANAE ONUMA—On the morning of July 26th, twenty-four of Nanae’s government employees arrived at the town office in outfits that undoubtedly broke Japan’s “casual bizz” dress code for summer.  Instead of collared shirts, slacks, and indoor slippers they tramped inside with dusty sneakers, cargo shorts, bandanas, and the occasional apron.

Moments after the morning bell rang I ran outside with this already sweaty entourage and piled into one of several cars bound for Nagareyama Onsen in the neighboring town of Onuma.  When we arrived crates of vegetables and packs of ice were already streaming across the spa’s luxurious grounds.  An early start was critical; soon, 235 children and parents from Fukushima would arrive for an all-day barbecue to kickoff the first season of Fukushima Kids’ Summer Camp, and to enjoy their first leisurely day outside in over four months.

“You are wonderful hosts!” exclaimed the Camp’s founder Toru Shinshi.  “Normally we have about 80 volunteers with us on the program, but today there is a great local turnout.”

Not thirty minutes had passed and already Nanae’s task force was greeting the first waves of students and summer camp staff.  As they arrived, so did volunteers from Nanae’s Board of Education and from the Higashi Onuma Elementary student body and Parent-Teacher Association.  Groups from all around Nanae would arrive that day to help the Summer Camp achieve its simple, heartfelt goal:

“All we want is for these kids to be able to play outside again, especially during their summer break,” Shinshi-san explained.  “Towns throughout Fukushima Prefecture have cancelled all of their student programs for the summer of 2011 because of the accident and unfolding crisis at the [Fukushima Daiichi] nuclear power plant, and children are being forced to stay indoors.”

photo by Ken Ikeda

Continue reading “Nanae Hosts Fukushima Kids’ Summer Camp”