Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kurayami Matsuri

Fuchu is a small town about 15 miles to the west of Tokyo, along the Tamagawa. It has the Suntory brewery, Kyodo no Mori, and the Japan Racing Association's (JRA) horse track. It is also the home of an Okunitama Shinto shrine (there are many shrines of the same line throughout Japan). This particular shrine hosts the Kurayami Matsuri (Night Festival), which ran during Golden Week this year. The majority of the events during the first part of Golden Week were either really small, or took place at some of the other related shrines on the other side of Tokyo.

(Boats of chopped octopus for takoyaki.)

The two big events in Fuchu were on May 4th and 5th. On the 4th, there were floats and large taiko (the big Japanese drums) on the main street along the temple, and lots of yatai (small food stalls) and shops.

On the 5th, there was supposed to be the big night time parade featuring the portable shrines (mikoshi) at 10 PM, but it had been raining fairly heavily and steadily all day so I didn't try going back out there again. Fuchu is about 6 miles from my apartment, but by train takes about 20 minutes. Then, the temple is another 5-10 minute walk from the station. I wasn't feeling up to making the round trip in the rain, with the options of the parade either being canceled when I got there, or to be crushed by the soggy crowds expected to be attending.

In any case, what I did see on the 4th was lots of fun. Basically, it could be divided up into 3 parts - the stalls, the shrine and the taiko. The taiko drums were pulled through the streets by rows of men yanking on long ropes. At least some of the men were Yakuza, based on the full-body tattoos visible under their festival garment sleeves. Other men stood on the drums, while 2-3 others pounded on the drums according to a given chant. The drums would reach an intersection then stop and remain in place for a while before moving on.

The stalls could be divided up into 3 types as well: food, shops and games of skill. The skill games included the classic "scooping up gold fish", pop gun shooting, and scooping up hollow plastic balls with prize numbers inside. Food shops included grilled squid on a stick, chocolate-coated bananas on a stick, grilled corn on the cob, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, taiyaki, baked potatoes, glazed fruits, slurpees, and cotton candy. The shops had various masks (mostly Yattaman, Disney characters, Ultraman and Pure Cura), trading card game packs, toys and other stuff.

The shrine's grounds are at least 1 large block square, and have a number of buildings, including several shrines, a community center, a bridal center, and housing for the priests and miko (female shrine attendants). A billboard indicated that the shrine is being renovated, and a new entrance facade is being planned. The lines of people waiting to pray at the main shrine were about 40 long, with about a 15 minute wait to get to the front.

Of course, because of the depiction of this kind of festival in anime and manga, it's natural to expect people turning out in yukata (the traditional robes worn outside during the summer). But, there's actually a fixed season for when it's ok to be outside in yukata, and that season doesn't start for at least another month (mainly because it's still too chilly right now). A few people did wear yukata, but they were the exception to the rule.

(A small mikoshi. Compare to the one in Akihabara.)

The entire album can be seen at Media Fire.


bartman905 said...

I was also planning to attend the evening event on the 5th, but like you decided not to go due to the heavy rain that day (still raining in Tokyo).

Thanks for posting this blog entry about the festival - I agree, looks like fun.

TSOTE said...

This rain is really messing up my plans. Not only the final day of the Kurayami Matsuri, but also my hopes to do one more big ride this week before I have to return to my normal work schedule on Saturday. I've been considering riding the 38 miles or so out to Mount Takao, and then back. It's doable, but just on the wrong side of my 60-mile tolerance range. As it is, I'm not even able to get in shorter 1-hour rides. Sigh.

Well, hopefully, the next set of matsuris will be worth going to...