I’m back from the kimono contest, and I’ll post about it once I round up the pictures. For now, it’s time for Kamiarizuki!
In 10th month, most of Japan must go without their local kami, because they are all convening for their yearly meeting to decide how they’ll be influencing people in the year to come (more or less on an individual basis). Out here in the old Izumo province, however, we celebrate Kamiarizuki (literally, “the month with gods”) because they gather at Izumo Taisha (the second most important Shinto shrine).
This might sound familiar because I posted about it towards the beginning of October when Matsue was hosting several events to commemorate Kamiarizuki. However, that was the 10th month according to the Gregorian calendar. The old agricultural calendar, however, started it’s tenth month more recently. While it does mean people mistakenly think they are making merry with all the Kami-sama while only the local Kami-sama are present, perhaps that is a good thing–otherwise, how would the Kami-sama be able to focus on their meeting? They come for business, after all!
Even in Japanese, “Kamiarizuki” is a bit of a misnomer. The meeting only lasts for a week! After all, if they were away for one-twelth of the year, that would mean they aren’t doing their usual work for a large portion of the year. In 2012, Kamiarizuki is from November 23rd to November 30th. It starts with the Shingeisai (or Kamimukaesai, depending on how you read the kanji: 神迎祭 (god-welcoming-festival)), followed by days of Kagura dances, and then a seeing-off ceremony.
As I am writing this, the Kami-sama are having their meeting. Last Friday, I went out to Izumo to see the Shingeisai procession from the beach at Inasahama, up Kamimukae-no-Michi (God-welcoming Road), and then on to Izumo Taisha.
It starts with an assembly on the beach with worshippers and spectators watching the opening ceremony to welcome the Kami-sama coming from all over Japan (I find it funny that Inasahama faces the Sea of Japan. Did the Kami-sama take the long way around?). It’s supposedly very eerie when everyone is totally silent.
After that, the potable shrine (a staple item for most Shinto festivals) is silently paraded up the streets for about half an hour until it reaches Izumo Taisha.
That is what you can usually expect from the Shingeisai, it seems. Now for my experience!
First off, it was terribly dark and raining by the time I got to that part of Izumo, so I didn’t even attempt to take many pictures. I took a very expensive taxi from a musuem in a mountainous part of Izumo, and the driver took me as far as he good before the traffic looked too horrid for him to bother going on, right about the front of Izumo Taisha. I then joined the myraids of worshippers/spectators walking down the hill to the beach. It’s not usually so crowded, but this year it happened to fall on a national holiday–Labor Day, meaning a lot of people had a three-day weekend to travel. The gift shops around the shrine and the train station were bustling with business, but almost everything else on the way down was closed. I was glad I had the foresight to bring a rice ball, and that it was too dark for anyone one to notice me munching as I walked.
Once I got to the beach entrace, I was handed a gohei, which is also a common Shinto item.
They were also directly people to stand along the path prepared so as to welcome the gods, but to be considerate enough not to stand on it.
People were more spread out at the beach, but there were so many people lined and waiting by 6:00–an hour before it was scheduled to start–that I started to get concerned about beating the crowd to catch the train home later. Though it perhaps would have been more interesting to stay and, although not being able to see anything above the crowd, hear the silence, I decided to ask around and figure out a place where I could wait for the procession to come closer to the station.
Seeing as most places were closed and it was cold and rainy, I wound up waiting around in a little bait shop and talking with a couple of old ladies for an hour or so. They were the closest place to stop in and grab a packaged snack, get a warm drink from the vending machine that speaks with a Kansai accent.
“Are you usually open this late?” I asked, assuming they wouldn’t have people coming to put fishing equipment at that time.
“No, tonight’s special,” they laughed, and went on to tell me about how things would continue to be bustling with activity for the rest of Kamiarizuki.
“Things are busy around New Years too, aren’t they?”
“Oh, yes. Everyone comes to Izumo Taisha to do their New Year shrine visits. It gets very crowded. And it was busy with Shichi-Go-San recently, too!” they went on. “Come to think of it, there is usually some crowded thing going on. I went for a coming of age visit when I was young, but even though I live right by it I don’t usually go!”
The intersection right outside their shop started to fill with spectators, I thought I should head outside if I was going to see anything (and beat the crowd back up the hill). It was around then that we noticed a bus zoom up the street, and after what looked like a little confusion, the crowd started to follow it.
“I think that was it,” one of the ladies commented.
“Hmmm. Usually they’ll announce in the morning they’re going to skip the procession for weather. And what do you know, it already let up.”
So much for seeing the procession! I had to laugh at how long I had waited around for a bus to pass by, but I’m still glad I went as far as Inasahama to see the crowd and see part of the usual course of the procession. Though I barely beat the bulk of the crowd, I still managed to get a seat on the train back to Matsue!
Enjoy your meeting, Kami-sama! Maybe I’ll join in the work by writing about your discussion topics later this week.
EDIT: My co-worker and I talked about it today, and rather than waiting inside a bait shop, she arrived shortly before the event started and go stuck in the crowd unable to see much more than a few flickers of the bonfire. There were lots and lots of tourist buses this year taking people directly from the JR station to Inasahama, adding to how packed it was! Instead of silence, everyone was recording the event on their cell phones, and after the portable shrine was starting it’s procession to the bus, it was followed by a swarm of people like fans and papparazzi following a movie star–some where even holding signs for the Kami-sama to read. So much for eerie silence! So long as it doesn’t fall on a national holiday next year, maybe it’ll retain the atmosphere it once supposedly had?
Even for all that craziness, I found it interesting that I didn’t notice any other apparently foreign people. Should you plan on visiting for this event in the future, might I reccommend the guest house right on the coast? Unfortunately I’m not finding much more information than the address and the phone number for the Tsubaki-ya (出雲市大社町杵築北2844-45
Tel: 0853-53-2956), but I can tell you they were nice enough to let me use their washroom.