Replanting Traditions

The crew assembles in the shadow of Tarbogu shrine (太郎坊宮)

The crew assembles in the shadow of Mitsukuri-yama (箕作山)

One May Sunday, in a rice-paddock filled corner of Shiga prefecture, a collection of costumed festival participants posed for the crowd. The nearby high-school girl’s volleyball team were joined by some local ALT teachers,  many who had returned for their second, or more, chance to play in the mud.

Spontaneous twirl. Photographers descend: Can you do that again!

Spontaneous twirl. Photographers descend: Can you do that again!

Contemporary touch: The straw waraji shoes reveal toe-rings on one festival participant.

Contemporary touch: The straw waraji shoes reveal toe-rings on one festival participant.

As the rice-planting season gets into swing, all over Japan festivals like this one are held to pray for a good harvest. Famous ones like Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka attract hundreds of participants and onlookers, but the majority are smaller affairs. While the shrines continue these traditions so to relay them to the younger generation, in reality they attended by only a handful of aging devout, who are sometimes dwarfed by the larger number of fervent photographers.

Or not... A grandmother searches for frogs with her grandchild in the neighbouring paddies.

What festival? A grandmother searches for frogs with her grandchild in the neighbouring paddies.

Beyond the torii gate, marquee cover a small shrine and local dignitaries.

Beyond the torii gate, marquee cover a small, fruit-laden shrine as well as provide shelter for spectators.

It is a shame that more non-retired Japanese don’t have the inclination or the time to continue, or even just spectate on, their own history. Tarabogu shrine (太郎坊宮) is a place that claims a 1400 years old life-span. It was once a place considered holy to both Buddhists and Shinto followers, is guarded over by a Tengu, and is in possession of an Indiana Jones style, only-the-worthy-may-pass passage-way between a giant split rock.

The festival itself is part of a national tradition that harks back into the murky past possibly 2000 years. Called Otaue Taisai (お田植え大祭) in Japanese, the event, like all good Shinto festivals, involves a lot of ritual and ceremony.

Ceremony

Salt and sake were flung into the water as offerings to the shrine’s guardian Tengu.

rice-10

And then the main event. Taiko drums, singing and a long rope helped the planters keep in time, and generally along the same line. Despite attending a rehearsal session the week before, separating a clump of plants takes more time than dropping the straw they used in practice, and some said later they found the pace tricky to match.

Finally in, waiting for the signal to begin.

Finally in, waiting for the signal to begin.

Unexpectedly fast paced: before tractors existed people didn't have time to muck around.

Unexpectedly fast paced: before tractors existed people didn’t have time to muck around.

The boys had the hard task of holding the rice seedlings, and passing them to the girls as needed.

The boys had the hard task of holding the rice seedlings, and passing them to the girls as needed.

The end result.

The end result.

After planting 20 odd rows, and just as they were getting into the swing of it, the festival was over and it was time to wash off the mud and pose for more photos. The teachers were popular targets, especially one who had photogenic streaks of mud across her cheek.

Just a little closer

Just a little closer

While sad that more young Japanese didn’t come to enjoy the festival (all the male jobs this year were filled by ALTs), small festivals like these continue through those who choose to join them, no matter their age, or origin, or how many cameras they are carrying.

For those who are interested in visiting next year, the festival is held on the 3rd Sunday in May, starting at 11am. The nearest public transport is Tarobogumae station.

otsukare

 

Advertisements

One thought on “Replanting Traditions

  1. Pingback: One Day In Kansai | Where Next Japan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s