Last Saturday and Sunday was Chibu’s biggest festival, Ikku Matsuri. It is held every other year and includes stage performances on the first night and mikoshi carrying and more performances during the next day. The entire village comes together to prepare for the event, from cleaning the festival’s namesake shrine to practicing dance routines and kabuki.
On Saturday evening before the performances began, Khoa and I were invited over to the elementary school principal’s house for dinner. When we arrived, we couldn’t believe our eyes! Four long tables, arranged end to end, filled with the most delicious homemade food you could imagine. Take a look:
We stuffed ourselves silly and enjoyed great drink and wonderful conversations. Knowing that I like umeshu (Japanese plum wine), the principal bought a bottle specifically for me to drink and take home after the party. He also gave Khoa a jar full of homemade 20-year-old umeboshi (sour pickled plums), Khoa’s favorite. Even though Khoa doesn’t get paid in cash for a lot of the work he does around the island (taking pictures at school events, coming to English classes, helping at other events), he’s paid in kindness and homemade food, which is even better.
We then headed to Ikku Jinja (shrine) to watch the stage performances. Many of the elementary school and junior high kids had been practicing for weeks to perform during this festival and it was so fun to watch them on stage. I felt like a proud parent cheering on my 41 children.
The next day, Khoa and I headed back to Ikku Shrine in the morning for the mikoshi carrying. A “mikoshi” is a portable shrine which is used as a vessel to transport a Shinto deity outside of the main shrine. In some festivals (especially Chibu’s), the mikoshi is jostled around and tossed from side to side to amuse the deity inside. Mikoshi carrying is not unique to Chibu, but the intensity with which Chibu’s men “amuse” the diety inside the portable shrine is extraordinary.
Khoa was asked to participate and help the men carry the mikoshi through the village. He was told to come two hours early to “prepare” (drink) before the actual carrying began. I wasn’t expecting to be invited to drink with everyone, but as soon as the men saw me, they told me to hop up on stage, grab a beer and had me wear the white festival garb just like the men. They even wanted me to carry the mikoshi with them, but I don’t think I could have kept up with the drunken mess of sweaty fishermen. I instead opted to photograph and video this awe-inspiring event for future posterity 😛
I don’t think there are any proper words to fully describe mikoshi carrying, so I’ll let the pictures and video speak for themselves (if you look closely, you can see Khoa in some of the pictures):
After the mikoshi was safely brought back to Ikku Shrine (and a few more beers were had), everyone was free to rest until the evening’s performances. Khoa and I walked (limped) back home, jumped into the ocean in front of our house to cool off, and then enjoyed a relaxing, air conditioned break inside.
After a much needed rest, Khoa and I headed back out to Ikku Shrine to watch the Minyou (Japanese folk song) performances. Folk songs from the Oki Islands as well as other parts of Japan were performed on stage and Chibu was even treated to a professional singer and accompanied instrumentals. It was a great night and the perfect way to end a memorable weekend.
So I guess, from an outside perspective, Ikku Matsuri isn’t that big of a deal. Unlike other festivals in Japan, there were no fireworks, no elegant stage performances, and no yukata wearing to be seen. But to us, being able to participate in our local festival as, not an outsider, but a functioning member of the community, was what made the Ikku Matsuri the greatest festival in the world.