Sunday, 1 January 2006

新年 (New Year)

The night of the New Year was something of a surreal experience for me. I sat around at home wondering whether to go out or go to bed. Eventually, I decided to go and do the shrine thing. This led to the question of which shrine to go to. As I was preparing to go out, I discovered that the only money I had left was 30 yen: 5 5-yen coins and 5 1-yen coins. So I decided to go to 5 shrines, and spend 6円 at each (5 to say goodbye to 2005 and 6 to welcome 2006.) Made sense to me, anyway. As I cycled through the night and got closer to the main shrine the amount of traffic – cars, bicycles and pedesrtrians – gradually increased. I parked my bike and walked through the torii and along the avenue to the main shrine buildings, where I arrived at about 5 to 12. I joined a queue of people, which extended between a couple of bonfires in the courtyard to the main shrine building. 12:00 came and went, four dancers and three musicians started performing 神楽 in the 神楽台 and the queue I was in gradually started to move. One or two people recognized me and said おめでとうございます. When I reached the shrine building, I did the usual – i.e. threw my coins (6円) into the money box, banged the gong with the rope, clapped my hands and bowed. Then I went to watch the 神楽。Also watching was 谷本さん, her son and daughter and another couple of members of the kids club Junior Leaders, with whom I exchanged the customary greeting. I stayed and watched 神楽 with them for a while (one of the dancers was Daiki, another of the JuniorLeaders) and warmed myself on the fire. Various other people came and went, including some of the kids I teach (and their parents – it was a valuable occasion for learning who is in who’s family!) and ケンちゃん. The first four kagura dancers finished their bit, and a single older guy came on to replace them. There was some talk in the audience of an appearing soon, so this looked to become a very typical kagura performance – most kagura seems to consist of a brave guy who beats a demon. This was indeed the case, although this demon was more méchant than any I'd seen before. His first victim was a young boy from the audience, who he took up onto the stage. The kid was old enough to realize what was going on, i.e. that this was kagura and he was expected to participate, but probably still young enough to believe that this was a real demon. This was all very well, and the kid participated (the demon got him to bow down in the direction of the good brave old guy) without too much reluctance. But the 鬼’s next action shocked/appalled me. The victim was a 2-year-old girl who was in the arms of her mother. The “demon” tore her away, and carried her screaming up onto the stage. I have just finished reading a book which explains how child abuse and early childhood experiences (especially traumatic ones) are the root of most procrastination and difficulty throughout life, so have been somewhat sensitive to child-rearing methods while reading it. Although the child was eventually returned to her mother, goodness knows what trauma she has undergone and the difficulty that will cause her in later life. Ok, so it’s all just fun and games, drama, a bit of a laugh, but how do you explain that to a 2-year-old, who is surely convinced that this terrifying monster is out to rid her of all security?

After the demon had returned the kid, terrorized a middle aged woman and eventually left the stage and I was convinced it wasn’t about to come back and traumatize any more 2-year-olds, I made my excuses and went off to tour the other shrines. On my way out around the back of the shrine, I again crossed paths with three of the 11-year-olds I teach, and they further abbreviated 開けましておめでとうございます to 開けおめ。My next stop was the bright red 稲荷神社 down by the harbour. It was dark and there was no gong, but I deposited my 6円 and continued. Cycled around the Mitsubishi Pharmaceuticals factory, up to the main road, along a couple of (dark) roads whose existence I'd never before had any inkling of, and around to an enshrined and wooded hillock I had walked over when I walked to Buzen. The approach to the shrine was dark, but there were lights up at the buildings. No people around. It was not clear which of the buildings was the main shrine, and there was neither gong nor money box. So I selected a bulding which seemed to be a 神楽台; in many shrines this is directly in front of the main shrine. So I threw 6円 over towards the grille at the back of the stage and walked over to the edge of the park to look at the night. I found my way back down through the dark woods to my bike, and headed over to a theretofore unbeknownst shrine I had noticed over the other side of a field from the dark lanes I had travelled. This was a more typical shrine with a couple of 鳥居 and a main shrine behind a 神楽台。 The money box gladly accepted my offering and I continued towards the shrine on the hill near my appartment. This is another 稲荷神社, complete with 3 or more 鳥居 and a few foxes (and a thousand or so paper cranes) but no gong and no money-box. So 6円 are currently sitting somewhere inside the shrine.
After another night view of Yoshitomi and Nakatsu, I returned to my appartment at about 2 am, phoned home, and got mutually confused with my dad as to when I had last phoned. I got to bed at around 3, and it was an hour later that the most surreal experience of the night occurred. The phone rang, and I answered it before I was fully awake. It was Mia in Oregon, who had mis-calculated the time difference. So we talked for a bit and then I went back to sleep. Or maybe it was a dream. I guess the first bit definitely wasn’t a dream though, ‘cos I definitely have no money in my wallet – not even 30円。

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