Monday, October 24, 2011

Myouen-ji Matsuri, Part 1

Sometimes, it's hard knowing where to start these blog entries, because there's certain background info that is kind of useful, but not absolutely required. First, I'll start out by saying that I've been taking Japanese conversation lessons at the International Center (Kenmin Kaikan), and one of my classmates is Markus, a guy from Switzerland. He's been studying traditional Japanese archery and sword cutting techniques. Next, I'll move on to "Aki". "Aki" is "Fall", and during the Fall, there's kind of an emphasis on sports, reading, seasonal foods and matsuri (festivals). Naturally, there are festivals year-round all over the country, but things kind of go into overdrive between October and November. Last week, I wrote about the Asian Youth Festival held at Houzan Hall and Central Park. The same week, there was the Horseback Archery Festival in Koyama. I wasn't able to make it out to Koyama, but Marcus did because it relates to his studies, and he said it was fun. There's another matsuri at Terukuni Jinja (Terukuni Shrine) next weekend, but other than seeing a poster showing a basket priest fighting an assailant, I don't know what it's for. The weekend of Nov. 2-3 is Ohara, the massive dance festival along Tram Dori. One of my students tells me that she's been practicing with her coworkers for that one. There is supposed to be a special group specifically for foreigners who want to form a dance troupe for it, but I haven't heard the details for it.

(Takuo Noguchi)

This brings me to the Myouen-ji Matsuri that ran this last weekend. Myouen Jinja is a temple at Ijuin, 4 stops out along the JR line west of Kagoshima-chuo station. It's a little inconvenient to take the train out there, so on Saturday, I went up into Shiroyama to do some prep work for a game I'm writing for learning Java. Then, on Sunday, I walked the 12 miles out to Ijuin.

Actually, one of my other students had photocopied the ad for the Myouen-ji Matsuri and given it to me, telling me about the 6th annual 20 kilometer walk. I don't know if that was because she knows I do a lot of sightseeing on foot, or because she thinks I've gotten too fat. It's 500 yen ($7 USD) to enter, supposedly to cover insurance, and it starts from Terukuni Jinja (a few blocks from my apartment) and runs all the way out to Ijuin roughly parallel to the JR line. Registration opened at 7 AM, the Mayor of Kagoshima gave a speech at 7:30, and there was a guest appearance by Takuo Noguchi, an actor on MBC TV. A Shinto priest blessed the participants and the route, and the two guys wearing armor (I think they were high school principals) teamed up with Noguchi to lead the walk out from the shrine down the 8 blocks to the Kotsuki river. It was a slow start, and as soon as we crossed the bridge a number of us bolted from the pack. The route was marked with signs showing the Satsuma mascot, and each major intersection had one or two people with flags to protect the crosswalks. Otherwise, it was just a matter of following the string of people ahead of me.

I started at the head of the pack, with about 5-6 people that bolted early getting through the yellow street light before I could reach it. I caught up with them fairly quickly, but only one guy managed to pull ahead of me and disappear from sight. What confused me though was that I kept passing packs of 30 to 50 people all along the route. Eventually, it turned out that they were a completely different group that had started at 7 AM, and just happened to be following the same streets to the same destination. There were about 10 joggers that passed me, and some of them turned around at Ijuin and head back to wherever they had come from. There's a half-marathon coming up and they may have been practicing for that. The route was along city streets and not particularly scenic. It went uphill for the first hour, and I got tired fairly fast. There were 3 water stops along the way, which was combined with a stamp rally. Getting the three water stop stamps and the one at the goal point gave you one try at a drawing (I got the lowest level prize - 2 pieces of sweet mochi. They were very good). The first stop just had water refills, so I got the stamp and kept moving. The second stop had lots of Japanese snack food, like salted pickles (sunomono), umeboshi, hard candies, brown sugar candy and ice tea. I spent several minutes stocking up on snacks then moved on.

The third point was just water and hard candies. Then, as we got in closer to the goal point at Ijuin, there were other water stops set up for the second group, with even more pickles, umeboshi and brown sugar. The people in these stops were VERY friendly, and the snacks were great. I spent a lot of time there and stopped worrying about who would finish the 12-mile walk first. Even so, I was one of the first to the goal at the shrine, where the festival was in full swing. Total walk time - about 3 hours and 10 minutes. My legs were killing me, so after visiting the shrine to pay my respects, I went to the Ashi-yu (hot spa water foot bath) to recover.

(Entrance to Myouen-ji, and the goal point for the 12-mile walk.)

Along with getting the drawing booby prize, I got a certificate (#14 according to the stamp on the back). A rough translation is "Congratulations on completing the 20 km walk rally. We know that a fat foreigner like you couldn't do this without hitching a ride in a car, so please give this paper to the driver to thank them for the lift". I didn't see any other foreigners along the route, so I think they printed it up just for me. It makes me feel special.

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