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Here we have events that I literally ran into before the actual beginning of the On Matsuri, which officially begins on the night of Dec. 16th, midnight, going into Dec. 17th.  Because that event is done strictly with no lights of any kind, no cameras are allowed or any kind of recording, I can present documentation of the preparations, rehearsals, as well as the pre-processional and processional events.  Some of the night events I have on camera, so stay tuned to some short video clips coming up soon.

The events happen in this order:

1.  Dec. 16th: around 3pm, Priests gather to offer blessings and offerings to the deity of the Wakamiya (which means “young prince”).

I followed people into this Shrine, called Kasura Taisha

Kasuga Taisha

At this time, I stumbled across a ceremony

Priests finished the ceremony

so we all followed the Priests to the Wakamiya Shrine

...where we waited and waited in the cold (a current theme for this festival, in fact), until finally the Priests in White arrived

2. Dec. 16th: around 5pm, They proceed to the shrine where the deity is housed, and make their offerings.

...where they proceeded, along with 3 Priestesses to make offerings and dance for the Wakamiya Deity, which, at midnight they will, in secret, transport the Wakamiya Deity to the Otabisho


In the meantime, to warm ourselves up, Michele and I met up with Miya Masaoka to eat, drink and talk about what's to come...

3.  Dec. 16th: around 12 midnight, The transportation of the Deity.  That night, Michele Kong, Miya Masaoka and I arrived around 10:45pm.  We thought we would be able to walk up to the Wakamiya shrine and see the service taking place.  However, we, along with many other people who came before us, were stopped at the 2nd Torii gate and were prohibited from going any farther.  We were a bit confused, but anxious to see what would happen; our curiosity gave us warmth and courage to hang out along with the rest of the people waiting in the cold night air.  Gradually, more and more people arrived, and it seemed we were not going anywhere as it became clear after about 45 min. that we were stuck there, little by little, feet and hands becoming icier and icier…waiting for something to happen… A man spoke softly into a bull horn (have you ever heard anyone actually speak softly into a bull horn?) addressing all of us (there must be around 100 of us by now) that no lights of any kind were allowed.  A lot more was said but this is the only part that I actually understood!  An hour passed… hands, feet now extremely painfully cold, and we wondered, “could this really be worth all this?”  “What are we all doing here? We must be crazy, so many people just standing in the cold, dark forest, waiting for the unknown…”

Then, far away, the sound came.  A deep, resonant “OOOOOOOOOO”….. There was no way to tell exactly the direction it was coming from, but we knew it had to be coming from the Wakamiya shrine not too far away. In the distance, through the trees we saw fire and smoke…headed our way.

One man walking out front, alone, dressed in a dark suit (looking almost like a porter of an old hotel) holding with white gloves, a lantern.

Two sets of two priests, one on each side of the path, drag long burning logs which are each wrapped in fragrant smelling wood.  One priest holds and drags the log while the other, at the far end of the log, follows behind, keeping track of the burning end of the log, striking it as it is being dragged.  As there are two logs, each designates the sacred pathway for the following entourage.  This creates not only a pathway of fire, many brightly light coals falling and creating a pathway, the fragrances fills you, and sets a tone for reverence.

Many priests all wearing white, and holding a sacred tree branch above their heads bunch together tightly, chanting a long and ominous sound “oooooooooooo”…it seemed that snuggled within this tightly woven group of priests, there was carried the deity being transported to it’s temporary new home, the Otabisho.  Following this, many people proceed in procession, all chanting “ooooooo”…which echoes through the trees so that it is difficult to tell whether the sound is really only coming from them, or from the forest too.  It seems that the trees and the wind participated.  Everyone was completely transfixed.  I realize now, that I completely forgot about being cold.  I didn’t remember that I was cold again, until it was all over… But I digress…The music was simply awe-inspiring.

Following this was “the band”, represented by only 3 instruments with many people playing each:  the sho (a kind of mouth organ), ryuteki (flute) and hichiriki (like an oboe).  We could hear them even more loudly than the chanting as these instruments can cut through just about any other sound.  When placed together, many people playing them at once, it’s not likely an easily forgettable sound.  The procession continued with many more followers, priests and lay people (we suspected Shrine lay practitioners), until finally, the rest of us were instructed to follow, at a respectful distance behind.  Though it was a cloudy, windy, dark night, we could easily follow within the fire-light pathway, our eyes having become accustomed to the various shades of black by now.

Upon arrival at the Otabisho, there was another brief ceremony and then…seemingly suddenly, it was over. And the sudden realization that we actually frozen solid overcame us as we shivered our way back to our hotel…


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