I'm a bit late with this, but here are some photos from the Obon holiday along with a very dry explanation.
Last year I did not know about the "shishi" dance, so I had already booked customers for the time and was too busy to participate. This year I kept the two weeks before pretty much open so that I would have time to join a group of about ten other men from the village in practice. A few practice dancing, a few practice flute, and I and two others practiced drumming. There are also a group of "retired" shishi who offer their advice and criticism of the others dance or music.
Every year at this time, in order to offer a relief from the heat, a group of guys get together at the local meeting hall every night and practice playing the flute, drums, or dancing with a lion mask. The relief from the heat comes in the form of lots of cold beer after the practice. On the night of the festival, we walk through the hamlet as children carry lanterns. The men play drums and flutes, while others walk around with a bottle of sake pouring it down people's throats. Once we reach the shrine, much drinking of beer ensues. In the one photo you see me competing in a chug-a-beer-with-a-straw contest. I am pretty sure this is illegal in the US.
As this is my first year, I am not skilled enough yet to play the drums at the main festival, but the next day we walked around the hamlet visiting all forty homes, playing a song and dance to drive the evil spirits out of the house. As we walk between houses we are also drumming and fluting, so it makes for a very unique atmosphere that day, because the music can be heard from all around the hamlet.
Several houses along the way had prepared snacks and drinks for us to take a rest and cool off, so we were drinking from morning to night. That was nice. It takes all day to cover each house, and it is hot with all those clothes on, so each house donates about 5,000 yen so that the "shishi"men can go out for a party that night. We all took a bus to the nearby village (apparently getting OUT of our own village is highly valued to everyone who has lived their whole life here). There we have a bath and big meal with the added benefit of "companions" - girls that are hired to pour us drinks and laugh at our jokes. This time they even let some of the men touch their XXX.
All in all it was the funnest festival I have ever attended in Japan. Being a part of the festival really makes a difference. The only annoying thing was the TV crew that was following my every move. They did not get enough footage of Tomoe and I together the last time they were here, so they came back for more. Unfortunately, during this kind of festival time, men and women have very different roles so we spent very little time together. They spent most of their time following my preparations and playing at the festival. The other people of the village were good sports though, and faked a konmpai at the end of the day for the sake of the TV crew.
The festivities start in the morning when all the men have to gather at the shrine to set up. There is not enough work for that many men, but if you fail to appear you have to pay a fine, so everyone shows up and either stands around, or pretends to be doing something useful. Next, the men from each group of houses in the hamlet (5 groups) gather at a designated place and build a big umbrella with a painted lantern. This time I was in charge of painting the lantern, but with the TV people watching me I was pretty nervous and didn't make a very good painting. Upon seeing my painting of a girl eating watermelon (a typical summer theme) one old man said
"Oh! Its obake (ghost or monster)!".
"Oh! An obaachan (old lady)!"
I doubt I will be asked to paint again next year.
Later, the "shush" men practice their flutes, drums and dancing, and we have a BBQ, being careful to leave a few hours for the alcohol to vacate their system before the festival. Then, once it is dark, we meet at the shrine, change into our costumes, and parade through the town playing our drums and flutes.
Below is the song we played at each house, but there are also other more fast-paced songs and dances for the festival, and another one that we played as we walked from house to house.
The photos you see here are:
- Lanterns used for the festival
- Everyone gathered around pretending to work in preparation for the festival.
- Chillin' at a BBQ after our final practice for the dance. We had spent every night practicing and drinking for the two weeks prior.
- Photos from the procession as we walk around the village the next day. I played drums at some of the houses (not very well, I might add)
- Photos of some of the kids getting "bitten" by the shishi for good luck.
- Children at the festival