Oh deary me.
Sometimes I have slightly dappy moments. Last weekend was my dad’s birthday and I had a brilliant time with my family, helping mum prepare a mountain of food, and then helping consume it all with family and friends. But I managed to leave my computer (with all my photos) back in the countryside. Oops. This means I don’t have all the photo files to finish my next post about the North Downs Way.
So, instead, I thought I’d write a quick post about one of the fun weekends I had in Japan, at a local festival in Mitsue (御杖村) which is a gorgeous village in the South of Nara prefecture. Mitsue is a little far from the closest train station, so to reach it, you need to take a local bus (from Nabari or Haibara), or persuade a friend to drive you there! We came up the night before as we had to be up, dressed and ready to go before 8:00 am. We started at a shrine in Mitsue with the morning sun streaming through the trees.
One of my lovely friends, Chetan, was living in the village and teaching English at the local school. He had invited a bunch of us to the festival to help carry the village mikoshi (portable shrine.) I’d like to share a little taster of the magic and madness of getting involved in a local Japanese village festival. Children from the village sat in the mikoshi, chanting and playing drums. Then a large group of us carried the mikoshi (including the kiddies) through the rice fields and around the village.
Everyone was so friendly and lovely to us! They lent us all traditional happi coats, and we even got to take photos with the village dignitaries and the priest from the local shrine! First things first – what do you think you’d do at the start of a long hot day when you are going to do a lot of physical exercise? Drink sake of course!
Once we’d all had some drink(!) there were some speeches, and then some of the local men showed us how to manoeuvre the shrine by picking it up and circling around the shrine a few times. We all followed them out of the shrine, and we were off!
The mikoshi is incredibly heavy, even before you add the weight of the children. This means you have to be good at team work to carry it all around the village. We all kept taking turns, and there were lots of stops for snacks, drinks and sake. The photo above was me posing while pretending to carry the shrine, but right after that I actually started to help. Blooming ‘eck it is heavy! Seriously! We all spent the evening in Mitsue onsen (a hot spring) but I was still aching the following week.
One problem with having so many tipsy people in charge of a heavy object is sometimes we veered off course! At one point we all sort of fell into the rice field at the side of the road! Oops! There are always deep drainage ditches at the edge of rural roads, so you have to be careful not to fall into those!!
My friend Chetan, who had invited us all, fell down at one point at really hurt his ankle. We had to all stop and patch him up before continuing with the festivities.
Once we’d made it back to the shrine, we had aching limbs, we were all a bit drunk, and Chetan was injured, but we had gained lots of new friends.
The grand finale of the day involved some speeches, and then the local dignitaries threw loads of mochi (yummy rice cakes) out into the crowd. Everyone put their hands out and attempted to catch some mochi. To be honest though, us newbie foreigners didn’t stand much of a chance! The Obaa-chans (friendly grannies) were really competitive and got their elbows ready to nudge everyone out the way. Most of these ladies ended up with aprons or skirts filled with mochi! They were really impressive!!
Mitsue (and anywhere in Nara prefecture) is an amazing part of the world to visit! One of the men told me this village used to be on the pilgrimage route from Osaka to Ise; so they have a long history of making outsiders feel welcome. At the end of the day we looked and felt knackered, but happy!
If you’d like to visit, I couldn’t find much information about Mitsue village in English, but I found an easy to understand map here. The Onsen is the icon in the top right, click it to see photos. The temple is in the middle, and the shrine is slightly below it, on the way to the waterfall.