Saturday, February 3, 2018

Jan. 2, 2018 (repost)

Right after Christmas, the Tenmonkan staff pulled down all the advertising for the Christmas Concert and replaced it with fliers for the New Year's Jan. 2nd event. I grabbed a copy, so I knew that something was going to be coming up, but on Jan. 1st I couldn't find that copy. I spent the evening writing up the blog entries for the New Year's eve stuff, and the Kinko Park walk, and finished just before 2 AM. I figured that it might be advantageous to double-check the schedule in advance, so I literally ran the quarter mile from the apartment to Tenmonkan, because I wanted the exercise and I didn't want to spend that much time outside if I'd have to be getting up early that morning to catch whatever was going on. But, when I looked in all the places where I'd seen the fliers before, they were gone. I guess the flier boxes are moved into various shops after-hours to clear out the arcades to make way for the garbage trucks and other cars that drive through at night. Anyway, I did locate a poster on one arcade wall telling me that there'd be a taiko drum performance at 11 AM, followed by an ema giveaway, and a "mame maki" at 1 PM. I've seen this taiko group before and they are good, but it wouldn't bother me that much to miss part of it if I didn't get out the door right away. I returned to the apartment, set my alarm for 10 AM, and got to bed at 2:30 AM.


The alarm goes off, I get up and check email, eat breakfast, etc., and yeah, I still ended up not getting to Tenmonkan until after 11:30. I missed all of the taiko, which apparently only ran maybe 15-20 minutes, which was too short. However, the Tenmonkan business associations had two sets of tables set up, with lines in front of both of them. First was for the ema. These are little wood plaques, maybe 6" wide, that you write on and then hang up next to some shrine. Generally, the shrines charge money for them, but this time they were being handed out for free. You could take one, your choice out of three different designs, and then write your message on the back in marker at one of the other tables, before taking the ema the half-block to the Tenmonkan-dedicated shrine (see below) to hang it up on a hanger wall. Messages could range from wishing for money, luck or love, to a simple "Happy New Year!" Since 2018 is the Year of the Dog, all three ema designs are dog related. I got the gold one at the right of the above photo. I haven't written on it yet.

The other set of tables had boxes of free Tenmonkan tissues. The emcees here are Party, and the women handing out the boxes are members of the dance group, and Tenmonkan mascots, Southern Cross.

There was an amazing number of people in line for the tissues. And, at first, I thought they were giving out free box lunches, which would have been a lot more interesting. As it was, there were several homeless people that kept getting back in line to get as many boxes as they could manage. One guy had a shoulder bag, and as he was getting back into the line in front of me, he was struggling to jam the current tissue box into the bag along with the others already in there. The Southern Cross girls were so busy with the 3-4 lines of people rushing past them that they didn't have time to look at anyone's face very closely. I got my box, discovered it just had tissues, then went to talk with the one Party member that was acting as a "crier" to get passersby to get in line. He mentioned a free wine table, which I never located, and the mame maki at 1 PM, plus a towel give away. I headed in the direction he indicated for the towels, but didn't find that either. So I kept walking in a big circle through Tenmonkan to get to the Tenpara theater complex, followed by Lotteria.

Last year, Tenpara was one of several locations where the store owners pounded cooked rice into mochi cakes and gave them away to passersby. But that was on Jan. 3rd, and this was still the 2nd. There was nothing going on there when I arrived. But, 2 blocks away at Lotteria, a different group of shop owners were handing out free paper cups of sake. It was very fruity. I could have tried sneaking several cups, but I was satisfied with just the one.

I did a little food shopping, completed my swing through Tenmonkan and returned to the 7-11 where they'd had the ema table.

Along the way, I passed by Cosmetics Beniya. One of the other practices in Japan at the beginning of the year is the sale of "lucky bags". The idea is that shops want to unload inventory, so they put a bunch of stuff into bags and tape them closed. The bags are then sold for 1,000, 5,000 or 10,000 yen ($9, $45, or $90 USD). It's a potluck, but generally you're getting stuff worth more (list price) than what you're paying for. More recently, the shops tell you that the bags hold shoes, coffee or cosmetics, so you know that much, but you still have no idea what brands or specific items you're getting until you open the bag. Most of the shops in Tenmonkan had tables out front with their lucky bags, and absolutely no buyers.

The exception was Beniya, which had a line at least 50 people long. The bags here are priced from 9,600 to 15,120 yen. That's very suspiciously specific... Who knows, maybe they're charging by weight.

Loop shoes with their chalk board out front. Happy year of the drunk dog.

The ema and tissue tables were already gone, so I headed down the arcade a block to some other activity. What I found was a group of men preparing to carry a mikoshi (small portable shrine) in front of the Tenmonkan main shrine. The guys got in line to pray at the main shrine. Meanwhile, to my left another group of workers were constructing a temporary stage out of support risers. The mame maki wasn't going to start for another 30 minutes or so, so I killed time by leaning against the wall and read manga.

Then, right in front of me, one guy began setting up toy figures on the ground. They have little paper cutouts of faces taped on them, maybe taken from news magazines. He then tried framing the shot with his smartphone to get a forced perspective photo with the shrine behind them. There were a lot of people milling about, but for about 10 seconds he had a clear view of the shrine. Then a bunch of people gathered in the way and he gave up, taking his figures and leaving. It was too perfect a situation to pass up.

Then the stage was rolled down to the 7-11 and a crowd quickly formed. In general, "mame maki" translates to "bean throwing." The big bean throwing event is Setsubun, in February, and the big business owners and local city officials just toss out little bags of dried beans to the crowd. For New Year's, though, it was candy, mochi, 5 yen coins with fortune sheets, and discount coupons.

I've filmed the Setsubun mame maki before, so I didn't bother doing that this time. Instead, I got up close to the stage and waited. A number of people, adults as well as kids, had big paper bags open and waiting. There was the obligatory introductions and speeches, hosted by Party, and then the chaos began. The people on the stage tossed out handfuls of stuff, and the crowd went insane. Two forty-year-old housewives, in good clothes, manicures and newly permed hair dropped down on their hands and knees and battled to grab every single bit of whatever got near them that they could. One small envelope landed on the floor next to me so I stepped on it to try to find out what was inside. The crowd in back of me pushed against my back and one of the women clawed at my shoe. When I finally had the chance to look down, the envelope was gone. However, I'd had to hold my backpack in front of me because people kept grabbing at it, and by accident 2-3 pieces of candy had fallen into the front pocket. I managed to catch 2 other pieces, and one other envelope (it contained a lucky 5 yen coin (4 cents US), and 3 discount coupons for buying donuts and a cup of coffee). 10 minutes later, the tossers ran out of things to toss, and the crowd dissipated. The one woman next to me stood up, brushed herself off and proudly joined her family with her trophies - $1 worth of hard candies, a handful of 5 yen coins (worth maybe 24 cents), and a pack of discount coupons for stuff she'll never buy. Scary.

Next year, I'll find something else to do with my time. Maybe, reading more manga.

The stage was moved out of the way, and the mikoshi was brought up from the shrine to the 7-11. There was much shouting of "yoi-sho" and the carrying of the mikoshi. I've taken lots of video of this kind of thing, so I went up to Amu Plaza.

One of the guys I know spotted me in Tenmonkan, and had mentioned that the Saigo Matsuri event at Amu Plaza had live music this time. I wanted to see if this was true, and it turned out that it was. Sakura, one of the singers during the Christmas Market in December, was doing folk pop. I took a few photos, stuck around to get a feel for her style, and then went into Amu Plaza for free Kaldi sample coffee, before going to Seattle's Best to finish reading the manga I had with me.

My plan was to check every hour and see what the other singers were like, since there was no schedule. Sakura started at 1 PM, and was still playing at 1:40 when I got there.

I came back at 2 and 3 PM. I didn't catch the other singers' names, and as I say, there was no schedule. This one started out with the Japanese version of the theme song to "Frozen," which of course would have gotten flagged by youtube if I'd tried recording and uploading it.

This singer started out by saying she was going to be singing covers, and began with some light J-pop song I didn't recognize. I decided to give up and return home. Things had been pretty eventful, so I was happy with what I had seen. That, and I'd finished my manga.

However, after getting home, I discovered that I still needed to do some more food shopping, and 15 minutes later I was back in Tenmonkan. The mikoshi was gone, as were the crowds. That gave me a clear shot of the local Tenmonkan shrine.

It's pretty shrine-like, and has a bottle of beer as an offering.

What I really wanted was a picture of the ema tablets that people had gotten earlier in the day and already hung up. The wall is 5 rows of 12 hangers each, and the hangers have between 2 and 5 tablets each. Assuming 3 tablets average, that's about 180 tablets total. Lots of wishes for the new year.

You can see all three designs now.
2018 is a good year to take up new activities. Whatever you decide on, do it doggedly.

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