This is the latest installment of Public Streets, a biweekly urban observations series curated by Ellis Avery. Less than two hours from Tokyo Station by bullet train, the village of Osaki is ...
A local photographer zooms in on the mikoshi team as they rush past gardens and well-maintained farmhouses.
Carrying the heavy mikoshi is difficult, dangerous work, but there are myriad other tasks to be done, including clearing the way with shide (paper streamers used for ritual purification).
Preparing for the final approach to the shrine, men carrying the mikoshi catch their breath and change places.
Matsuri participants cool their feet in one of the many tidy gutters that direct the region’s copious water flow through the town.
The matsuri procession winds through the narrow streets of Osaki, many of which are equipped with geothermal sprinklers to clear away snow during the heavy winters.
The matsuri procession prepares to cross Highway 291, which separates the village from Osaki Shrine.
Shrine maidens pause for a chat with their aunties in front of the torii (shrine gate).
Having reached their destination, the children’s parade eddies between the torii gate and the stone stairways leading up to the shrine proper.
The mikoshi proceeds ahead of one of the shrine’s priests as he readies to mount the steps to the shrine, the ultimate goal.
The mikoshi bearers do not simply march up the steps, but instead rush up and down, up and down, wowing the kami-sama (and their own neighbors) with choreography that becomes treacherous on moss-slick stairs.
A priest and other officiants wait inside the shrine, a small wooden structure that is usually boarded up tight against the elements (as well as curious bears and marauding snow monkeys).
Excitement mounts as the mikoshi team speeds around the shrine …
… nearing complete exhaustion.
In one last push, the mikoshi is carried up the final stairway into the shrine, bringing the kami-sama home to rest safely for another season.
After the matsuri, the shrine is secured once more, but visitors will continue to bow, clap, and shake the heavy bell-cord in hopes of getting the gods to hear their personal entreaties.
This is the latest installment of Public Streets, a biweekly urban observations series curated by Ellis Avery.
Less than two hours from Tokyo Station by bullet train, the village of Osaki is nonetheless a country backwater. The town lies aside narrow Route 291, which snakes and tunnels its way to Yuzawa, the onsen (hot spring) resort town immortalized in Yasunari Kawabata’s Snow Country. The mountainous inland region of Niigata Prefecture, which catches up to 11 meters of snow every winter, remains most famous for producing Japan’s premium variety of rice, Koshihikari.
Osaki, a collection of perhaps 80 farmhouses, a post office, and an elementary school, nestles beneath the roiling peaks of sacred Mt. Hakkai. Here at the eastern edge of the Uono River’s fertile floodplain, manicured rice paddies abut steep, cedar-covered slopes. The village shrine boasts an ancient spring that gushes ice-cold mineral water year-round.
The village’s summer matsuri (festival) is regularly slated for August 14 through 16, come rain or shine. On the 15th, the community’s mikoshi (portable shrine) is paraded through the town by local youths and middle-aged diehards, energizing the sleepy streets. Residents and visitors from neighboring towns join forces to awaken the kami-sama
(local spirits) and entice them into bringing the community good luck in the upcoming harvest. It’s a rollicking good time, Japanese-style—meaning cooperative effort, calculated risk, and copious sake—the locally produced Hakkai-san brand being an obvious favorite.
Recordings of the summer matsuri centered around Osaki Shrine in the village of Osaki (Minami-Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture), 2014.