It’s been about a year since the Art Imitating Life: Anime Pilgrimages Around Japan series (see Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), and I’ve had more run-ins with anime set in the San’in region since then.

Most recently, I was thrilled to hear the brief conversation about the San’in region the newest installment of the Digimon Adventure: Tri movies series, “Ketsui” (2016), because that’s how most conversations about the San’in region go in Tokyo. Most city kids can’t tell Shimane and Tottori apart and only know they’re right next to each other, and they tell them apart by remembering that Tottori is the one with sand dunes. (But as a good Our War Game reference, Taichi pointed out that Shimane was the one without computers. Really, though, we have computers here nowadays! There is internet in the inaka!)

The most prominent run-in was last October (2015), about the time when Noragami: Aragoto was airing. I had heard of Noragami and knew it had something to do with Shinto gods, a common theme in anime, manga, and video games, but I had not looked into it and I didn’t really know much about this person I found hanging out in Izumo’s En-Musubi Airport.

We welcomed an exchange group that night and took group photos with a massive group of key persons from both ends and all the host family members and a big welcome banner than stretch across the crowd, and it wasn’t until later that I noticed this crummy photobombing kami was nestled in at the side of every one of those diplomatic photos, as if casually trying to include himself.

Yes indeed, I realized just how funny that was after I watched the series a few months later.

In this entry, I’m not so much going to look at contents-based tourism as a whole like with the Pilgrimage series, but instead look at a few examples of Shinto-themed anime making use of the sites of Izumo myths. I want to start with Kamichu!, the 2005 series that first introduced me to Izumo Taisha and Kamiarizuki. When I first found out I was going to work in this region and read material about the gathering of the gods, I thought, “Hey, I know about that! In that one episode, Yurie transfered to a school in Izumo to attend Kami-Con!”

As cute and catchy as that is, and as much as I have to cut them some slack because their goal was to do cute things like make the Seven Lucky Gods into a rock band instead of making the gods get some En-musubi work done. But after a more recent watch, I have to call them out on a couple of things that made me want to flip the table and shout how wrong they were. Wrong, wrong, wrong! Who let the God of Poverty into the gods’ meeting? Binbogami and other unpopular gods are not invited!

Yeah, that’s a cat possessed by the God of Poverty.

But you know what made me more upset?

“After class, let’s all go eat some sweet red bean soup!”

The “sweet red bean soup” this note refers to is an Izumo specialty, and it would have been a really nice touch that they included this… if only they got the name right. We don’t call it “oshiruko” here, we call it ZENZAI!!! IZUMO ZENZAI!!!!! After all, the term “Zenzai” is even said to originate from Izumo dialect for “the gods are here”!

I was much more pleased with the second season of Kamisama Hajimemashita/Kamisama Kiss‘s treatment of Kamiarizuki and the surrounding Izumo culture (2015). Besides actually putting this school-girl-turned-goddess to work answering En-musubi prayers, they gave some gratuitous screentime to the scenes of Izumo Taisha which any visitor can expect to see on a visit there during a busy period like when the gods are visiting.


I liked that they even noted that Izumo Taisha’s omikuji (fortune-telling slips) are different from what you’d normally expect, because they don’t have a basic declaration of your luck-level at the top (like “Big Luck” or “Little Luck”).


They even showed off Izumo Soba and had Nanami explain how you eat it Warigo style!


They came so, so, so close to a perfect score on my rating of how they portrayed the region. But they just had to ruin it with this little error…

Ohtsukuri Onsen? We have no Ohtsukuri Onsen. We have a Tamatsukuri Onsen. That one little missing dot in the name (玉 (tama) as opposed to 王 (ou)) makes all the difference.

You can’t mistake it with that magatama theme found all over the onsen area. It’s the jewel-making onsen, not the king-making onsen.

Now back to Noragami. I was already enjoying their approach to popular Shinto gods before reaching the climax of the second season, Aragoto.

Bishamon is my favorite! Unfortunately during the two months or so that this campaign was going on, I didn’t get a chance to see Ebisu, Yukine, and Hiyori at Miho Harbor, Yasugi Station, and the Matsue Castle tourism information office. I also hadn’t even seen the series yet at that time.

I also loved to catch all the little references that I only know because of all the research I did for the Kojiki manga series and through working in the San’in region. I find their approach to Okuninushi hilarious, especially since they include everything from his dual-identity as Daikoku, branch shrine in Hawaii, affection for animals like white hares, and distaste for gods like the God of Poverty (to be honest, though, that spider bit took me by complete surprise).

In the later half of Aragoto, Yomotsu Hirasaka (the entrance to the underworld) makes an appearance. Overall, I thought their treatment of Yomi was pretty good–really, the dirty image of Yomi is consistent across many Japanese art forms, the similar themes in Noragami and Kamisama Hajimemashita’s treatment of Yomi isn’t surprising. I was very happy to see they got the site of Yomotsu Hirasaka so right, though (Kamisama Hajimemashita’s entrance to Yomi seemed a little too extreme for Yomotsu Hirasaka, so it’s possible they chose the lesser known entrance in Izumo, Inome Cave, instead. I haven’t been there, though, so I can’t say for sure!).




You know what was even more exciting, though? A few episodes later, they included more of the Higashiizumo townscape and the route to Yomotsu Hirasaka from JR Iya Station! I’ve made that trip a couple times in summer heat, so it was gratifying to see a couple of the characters do the exact same thing.



But you know what was still more exciting? Ebisu’s flashbacks to–you guessed it!–Miho Shrine!


I really loved how he described the harbor and the people who lived there, because that’s it exactly. They captured the charm of Miho Harbor so well–all they would have needed to add was some toddlers going around the shrine in foot-powered toy cars, more white squid hanging out to dry, and maybe even add the black Corvette I saw in the shrine the other day getting a blessing from the priest.







Good job, Noragami! And here’s hoping the San’in region will appear in more series yet to come! (Now hopefully the gods will avoid tearing up the Shimane landscape with their fights next time.)

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while probably have a pretty good idea what Kamiarizuki and En-musubi mean, but for those of you joining us recently, let’s recap:

Kamiarizuki:
In the classical Japanese calendar, the 10th month was referred to as Kannazuki, “the month without gods,” written as 神無月 (gods-nothing-month). Only in the Izumo region is the 10th month referred to as Kamiarizuki, “the month with gods,” written as 神在月 (gods-exist-month). This is become the gods around Japan all gather in Izumo at this time for an annual meeting. Although it refers to a month, the meeting is actually only a week long. Converted to the Gregorian calendar, it usually falls around late November or early December, and there is a week of rituals that take place at Izumo Taisha during Kamiarisai.

En-musubi:
En, written 縁, is a mysterious fate-binding power, or spiritual link between people and other people, or even with nature. “Musubi” (結び) is based on the verb “musubu” (結ぶ, “to bind”), so En-musubi (縁結び) is the act of linking fates, binding ties, or in the case of romantic relationships, matchmaking. It is often erroneously translated simply as having to do with marriage and matchmaking, but in fact it can encompass relationships between parents and children, teachers and students, business partners, friends, and beyond.

What is the tie between these two phrases? When the gods are meeting at Izumo Taisha, they are discussing how they are going to bind people’s fate in the coming year. This is because the former Lord of the Lands, Okuninushi, was given domain over this unseen realm in exchange for handing over dominion of the lands to the heavenly kami (more specifically to Ninigi, grandson of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu). Izumo Taisha was built in his honor.

The En-musubi “power spots” are not limited to Izumo Taisha. The gods also gather at nearby shrines, like Sada Shrine, and other shrines closely associated with the local mythology are also closely associated with matchmaking powers, like Yaegaki Shrine. In general, making your wish will make your wish heard throughout Japan, as gods from all over the country gather here to discuss them.

Granted, many of the popular En-musubi spots, like Matsue Vogel Park, have relatively short histories…(click for source)

Of course, you could just direct your wishes to Okuninushi himself. There’s a couple of bits of heresay I’ve picked up about this:
1. It’s bad luck to visit Izumo Taisha with your significant other you have not married yet. Only very strong couples survive that trip together.
2. 5 yen coins are good luck (because they are a pun for how to respectfully refer to En, “go-en“). 10 yen coins are bad luck.
3. When making your wish, you have to mentally convey your address so that the luck knows where to find you.

I’m not sure how much stock to put into each of those, but the one thing everyone will tell you is that there is a special way to pay your respects at Izumo Taisha. At most shrine, you bow and clap twice after offering your coins and mentally offering up your wish. At Izumo Taisha, you bow twice, clap four times, and then bow once more. This is supposed to be on your behalf as well as on your significant other’s behalf (whether you are bound in matrimony already or still have yet to meet your soul mate).

Because of Izumo Taisha’s reputation as a matchmaking shrine, it’s really fun to read the ema (prayer boards) people write and leave there.

“That I may hurry up and meet a wonderful woman and attain happiness”

“That I may get married within the next three years. That I may attain happiness.”

“That everyone may–no, definitely will–be granted eyes for seeing men” (written by a representative)

“N.S. is going to have the best husband ever–that’ll be me!!” – I.K.

“That Ka-kun and I might always, always get along as well as we did when we met <3, and that we'll always, always love each other <3, and be together our whole lives <3 (I'm gonna be I.K.'s wife!)" – N.S.

Of course, drawing omikuji slips is also just as popular as anywhere, and on busy times of year, you might have trouble finding spaces on which to tie them.

But does it actually work? I suppose that’s anyone guess. What with all the singles gathering here while the gods are gathered, I guess that bodes well for meeting someone.

If people can only visit one Shinto shrine in Japan, Izumo Taisha is the one I suggest given its scale, history, points of interest, and mythologically momentous background. Although the local mythology is felt throughout the San’in region, Izumo Taisha is the crowning glory of all that, and it feels appropriate to draw my descriptions of Kojiki mythology, as well as Nihonshoki and Izumo-no-Kuni Fudoki mythology, to a close here.

Well, kind of. I’m still planning on keeping up with my mythology themed nengajo (New Years card) and preparing something for the upcoming Year of the Monkey. I can’t think of any direct ties, but I did happen upon a street performer with a trained monkey once on a visit to Izumo Taisha!

The gods are here
It’s Kamiarizuki
Better light the way!

IMG_4974

Here in Matsue
We call this Suitoro
Lantern Festival

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Around the Castle
On a breezy night time stroll
Handmade lanterns gleam

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Each one unique
Celebrating the city
In various styles

The lantern I made for Suitoro 2013, featuring Matsue Castle, the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat, and my own spin on “Enishizuku.”

Not only on foot
You can view them by boat too
City of Water~

Click for source and more photos (Japanese)

The lantern I made for Suitoro 2013, featuring Matsue Castle, the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat, and my own spin on “Enishizuku.”

When asked about the best times of year to visit, I usually tell people to come to the San’in region–especially the Izumo region–in May or October. Everyone knows that cherry blossoms are spectacular throughout Japan in April, but I think the more impressive flower displays are in May. As for October, that’s Kamiarizuki.

The Japanese calendar has classical names for every month, and October is typically known as Kannazuki (神無月), “the month without gods.” However, only in the Izumo region is it known as Kamiarizuki (神在月), “the month with gods.” Put simply, this is because the many thousands of kami from throughout Japan are congregating in and around Izumo Taisha for a meeting.

Just to be clear, the Japanese calendar is sort of whack and many holidays are not celebrated according to the times they were originally meant to be celebrated. Kamiarizuki, although the phrase nowadays typically is in direct reference to Gregorian October, is not even a month long. Futhermore, it changes every year according to the old calendar. In 2014, the meeting of the gods is from December 1 to December 8. There will be events going on at Shinto shrines–most notably and especially Izumo Taisha, of course–over the course of that time, and many pilgrims do flock to these events.

But like the divide between religious Christmas and mainstream Christmas, the mainstream celebration of Kamiarizuki is festive and quite noticable, and even more of the public takes part in this. After all, it is a whole month long, and there are even free shuttle buses to and from Matsue Station specifically for everything going on around the castle.

In Matsue especially, October also implies Suitoro, the lantern festival. Hundreds of lanterns–everything from square paper lanterns decorated by children or by local professional artists to stone lanterns carved out of Kimachi stone–are placed around Matsue Castle every night the weather permits, and on the weekends they extend out to the surrounding streets, including around the Shimane Prefecture office and along Shiomi Nawate, one of the top historic streets of Japan across the moat from the castle mountain.

Click for source and more photos (Japanese)

Besides the Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony I already posted a handful of entries about, there are many events both during the day and during the evening on weekends. Some occur every year, others change slightly. For instance, the Samurai Residence (home to a middle-ranking samurai family which the street, Shiomi Nawate, is named after) is usually open late and has free evening admission so that people can enjoy concerts held there.

The backdrop for the concerts at the Samurai Residence

Matsue Castle also has later admission to enjoy the view of the lanterns, and the Horikawa Sightseeing Boat which cruises around the historic moats all day long runs a special night course to enjoy the view from below. The stage set up at the main entrance to Matsue Castle usually has some form of Kagura dance as well as other San’in region performers. Food stalls from local restaurants? But of course.

Last weekend I checked out an outdoor cafe and art exhibition set up to enjoy alongside the concerts at the Samurai Residence in which everyone working there was dressed in Taishou era style clothes, and then walked along the lantern-lit moat to go see a concert at Matsue Castle. Still, along the way, there was such a sence of peace in the glow of the night air–cool, but not yet frigid, quiet, but not silent. Groups of people–including families with teens, families with small children, families with grandparents leading the way most enthusiastically–were coming and going. Single wanderers, like myself, passed here and there, listening in to other’s conversations as acquaintances ran into each other.

“Oh! Fancy seeing you here!”
“Yes, I live close by, but you imagine that this is my first time to come enjoy Suitoro this year? Haha.”
“I came last weekend, too. Will you be going to the concert tomorrow?”
“I probably can… did you ride the boats yet?”
“Not yet… tonight I came for the shakuhachi concert.”
“Ah, I wanted to see the cafe! I think I’ll try the plum lemon tea.”

It’s like going out to enjoy the Christmas lights, only it’s not from your car, it’s up close and in person. It’s not just about the lights–it’s a chance to appreciate what others have created. Each performance, each booth and stall, each and every single handmade lantern, all unique and produced from the heart.

While walking along the moat, eyeing the lit-up boats and the reflections of the lights from all around on the water’s surface, whereas on the other side of the street the Edo period walls are lit just as much as necessary, I cannot help but wonder how many artists have passed that street in its hundreds of years of history.

Ah, but then again, I am an artist—and I have likely walked that street hundreds of times by now myself.

Another view of the lantern I made last year–yes, that is Lafcadio Hearn, who also happened to be an artist and took many walks along Shiomi Nawate.

Back home somewhat early that night, I could still hear the sound of October in Matsue–enormous do drums echoing through the city, as the neighborhoods break out their treasures from the store houses, pass the sake around, and practice the flute and drum tunes for a parade that has been celebrated since the Edo period–Do-gyoretsu. It rumbles like a distance thunder, but unlike the thunder, the beat goes on as it always had in the past. But we don’t live in the past–the familiar beats and echoes of the drum parade accompany the lantern festival, a modern traditional as much a part of local character as Kamiarizuki itself.



Yes, those are filled with sake.

——

Yesterday was Sunday, October 19th–the third Sunday of October, and therefore Do-gyoretsu, the drum parade. It was hard to spot the people I knew–it’s hard to tell if there were more participants or spectators, as it draws such a crowd. Furthermore, the weather was sunny and warm, perfect for a parade.

By the evening, however much the sounds of the drums lingered in after parties throughout the neighborhoods, the atmosphere of Suitoro took over again, and the night had just as perfect weather as the day. Windless, cloudless, and comfortably between warm and cool.

A perfect night for tea.

The local junior college tea ceremony club had set up a special event this weekend in cooperation with the special night-time Horikawa Sightseeing Boat canal cruises. Besides getting the enjoy the view of the lights along the streets, trees, and surface of the water, the boat was also lighted with its own lanterns and even a flower decoration attached to one of the posts, and there was just enough space for eight guests, two boat operators at either end of the boat cooperating in low-light navigation, and two students in kimono with a tea space set up for preparing tea.

In the low light it was hard to appreciate the appearance of the Horikawa boat themed wagashi and the individual tea cups, but the quietness of the night made everything else more noticable–the warm, autumn taste of the chestnut included in the wagashi, the fragrance of the charcoal used in the ceremony, the smoothness of the tea, and the subtle motion of the boat. I’ve ridden this boat countless times and could give the whole tour myself instead of interpreting, but it nonetheless felt very surprising and mysterious to see the 400-year-old stone walls of the castle, take a sip of tea as the boat was turning, and then see the lanterns decorating the street when I took the cup away.

The boat was full of people I didn’t know, and for once I was totally engaged in conversation on account of being the foreign face at a tea ceremony, and the others talked among themselves, perhaps assuming I couldn’t understand. A couple ladies with thick Izumo accents were trying to remember where the best soba restaurant on Shiomi Nawate was (came from just out of town, likely), an older couple were asking the boat operator when they’d be bringing out the kotatsu this year–ahh, November 10th, I see–(they were likely Matsue locals), and at last the quiet middle adged man asked if the tea ceremony on the boat happens all the time–what’s more, are these lanterns always there? He had immediately painted himself as a tourist–and as luck would have it, this Kanazawa native showed up on a perfect night for tea and lanterns! The older couple went on to tell him that if he thinks the boat ceremony is nice, he should have been there for the Grand Tea Ceremony and couple weeks beforehand.

I decided just to hold my tongue for once and let it look like I’m not the know-it-all I am. The silence was a welcome break from my usual chatter-filled, cultural exchange lifestyle, and I was content to simply observe the passing October moments.

It’s now October, the most festive month in Matsue!

Every month in Japan has a classical name, and October is called Kannazuki (神無月 “the month without gods”) everywhere but the Izumo region, the “Province of the Gods”, where it is Kamiarizuki (神有月 “the month with gods”).

This is because all the kami (gods) gather at Izumo Taisha for their annual meeting to determine people’s fate for the following year–in otherwords, it’s a big En-musubi meeting.

Actually, due to the craziness of the modern Japanese calendar system, calling the entire month of October “Kannazuki” or “Kamiarizuki” is a bit of a misnomer. Technically, it’s only about a week long, and it usually falls shortly after October. For the year Heisei 25, it will be November 12~19, 2013.

While there are religious rituals commemorating the gathering of the gods at Izumo Taisha at this time, the human-oriented events celebrating this air of En in this region usually take place throughout the Gregorian month of October.

Matsue, the capital city of the Province of the Gods, usually has a lot planned. Last year I made it to a handful of events, and this year I’ll be busy with the Dai-chakai (grand tea gathering at Matsue Castle featuring eleven schools of tea) and the Little Mardi Gras parade and ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of Matsue’s Friendship City ties with the US city of New Orleans. I’ve made a couple of lanterns for the Suitoro Lantern Festival (which lasts all month), and I’ll probably go to watch the Do-gyoretsu Drum Parade, though I know many foreign residents who are taking part on the drums or flutes.

In the meantime, the streets have echoed with the sound of Do drum practices on weekend nights, as various neighborhoods trade off with their turn to take part in the parade. I remember thinking it was very mysterious when I first it last year on a late August night, but now it when I hear something in the distance, I think, “oh, I wonder which neighborhood it is now? It was Suetsugu last year, maybe this year the sound is coming from Sotonakabara?” A quick detour on my way home brings me closer to the sound, and then I find everyone out with their drums and flutes. Usually, these drums are kept in well-marked garages in each neighborhood, and people are only allowed in those garages under certain circumstances. The participating neighbors are drawn at random, though no neighborhood is allowed to participate two years in a row.

I snapped this picture right after they finished the song and took a break.

I snapped this picture right after they finished the song and took a break.

Speaking of finding festiveness throughout the streets, I noticed a poster for an event coming up at the Kyomise shopping district, home to many of Matsue’s gourmet restaurants.

Kyomise Ikemen

There’s a good pun lurking around every corner. While they aren’t exactly the kind of events that the locals anticipate all year like the Dai-chakai, Suitoro, or Do-gyoretsu, Kyomise puts on a handful of little festivals throughout the year with specialty food stalls. Back in early spring, they had the “Donburi Karakoro” event, which was based on a pun combining donburi (any kind of food served on top of a bowl of rice), karakoro (the sound-effect Lafcadio Hearn used to describe the sound of geta sandals walking down the Ohashi bridge back in the Meiji era, a term which is use to describe both Karakoro Hiroba (square) in Kyomise and Karakoro Art Studio across the canal), and a familiar children’s song about acorns, “Donguri Korokoro.”

The pun in this poster is for the “Kyomise Ikemen Festival,” which is a play on the word for noodles, men, and the slang term for a hot guy, ikemen (ee-keh-mehn, not AIK-men). Oh Japan, you and your puns. Unfortunately I’ll be busy with other events that day and won’t be in Kyomise until the Little Marti Gras live performances at Karakoro Hiroba later that afternoon, but I got enough of a laugh from the poster that I thought I’d share.

サーチナの皆さまへ:私のブログを紹介してくださり、ありがとうございました。これからも頑張って山陰地域についての面白いことを英語で紹介致します。皆さまもぜひ、出雲地方に来られて出雲ぜんざいやぼてぼて茶を試してみてください!

Sweet red beans have been used throughout east Asia in a wide variety of culinary specialities, especially for desserts within Japan. Lightly crushed or smoothed to a paste, “adzuki” or “azuki” fill everything from bread buns to ice cream to pancakes to pounded rice cakes (mochi) to many, many different kinds of wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries). Rather than just a filling, they are also enjoyed in soup form. In the colder months, especially around New Years*, Japanese people throughout history have enjoyed the soft beans floating in a sweet warm broth or poured over a large, soft piece of mochi, or served cold in summer as a precursor to something like a refreshing and thick ice cream, but there is some confusion across the country as to what exactly this is. Is it oshiruko? Is it kameyama? Or is it zenzai?

This is much like the great pop/coke/soda debate in the US (for the record, it’s soda). Likewise, let’s set the record straight on zenzai.

A soup of mixed texture–bean paste as well as partially crushed small red beans–resulting in a jam-like consistancy, with at least a couple balls of soft mochi within. This is Izumo Zenzai.

Since it is typically written phonetically as ぜんざい, there is even some disagreement over the term “zenzai”–is it of Buddist origins(善哉), or Shinto origins? Out here in the Province of the Gods, the story has been recorded thus since at least the start of the Edo period in works of literature like “Gion Monogatari” and “Baison Saihitsu”.

As mentioned in previous posts and stories, all the gods in Japan come together at Izumo Taisha during the tenth month of the old calendar. While this is called “Kannazuki” (神無月、the month with no gods) in the rest of Japan, it is called “Kamiarizuki” (神在月、the month with gods) in the Izumo region. Having a bunch of gods among you is worth celebrating, and they did so with this dish: gods-are-here-rice-cakes, 神在餅. An alternate pronunciation of these kanji is “jin-zai,” thereby making this “jinzai-mochi”. However, Izumo dialect is known for having a bit of a slur and a drawl–or rather, like many other dialects in Japan, has completely different ways of pronouncing the same words. Therefore this was not pronounced “jinzai” as in standard Japanese, but “zenzai”.

Since the meeting the gods are having is all about en-musubi (binding fates for all humans with all nature, or more popularly understood as romantic matchmaking), zenzai also takes on a bit of an en-musubi meaning and is yet another way to indulge in en-musubi around the Izumo region.

En-Musubi style zenzai is typically served with a white ball of mochi and a pink ball of mochi. White and red (or pink) are colors typically associated with en-musubi.

Pretty easy to see where Kyomise is.

It’s a well known dessert (or any-time-of-day snack) out here, especially at the Izumo Zenzai chain across the Shimane Peninsula. They have music about zenzai, they have an official zenzai day (October 31), and they even host academic courses about zenzai. I’m pretty willing to say they’re the authorities on this dish if anyone is. This is the location in the Kyomise shopping district south of Matsue Castle.


They don’t just serve zenzai here; but a number of other desserts. Notice the door handles? If you slide the door all the way open, they make a heart that says “en-musubi.”


Zenzai can be prepared in different ways depending on the weather and on your tastes. I love matcha with almost anything, so I opted for zenzai in matcha served cold.

It comes with some pickled sides to refresh your taste buds so you don’t get overwhelmed with the sweetness.

It’s a nice little place to rest a spell, or buy some en-musubi souveniers, including instant zenzai or chopsticks. Yes, rabbits are a big thing here. I’ll be explaining that in the next Kojiki mythology manga installment.

Of course, there are also disagreements between different regions of Japan on just what “zenzai” is. Was it originally sweet, or salty? Is it beans in broth? Is it beans over mochi with no broth? Is it beans over shaved ice?? At least there is some national distinction on what Izumo Zenzai is if it even has its own sandwich modeled after it.

*Zoni, a traditional New Years dish, varies according to the region in Japan. In Tottori and Shimane prefectures, it is typically made with lots of small red beans–very zenzai-like.

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.

“Izumo Taisha God-Welcoming Gohei” // Shingeisai of the 24th Year of the Heisei Period”

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.

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).

Having kami around is generally a felicitous thing, so paired with the three day weekend, there were plenty of things to do in Matsue this weekend. I didn’t make it to everything I was invited to, but I fit in quite a bit. You’d think it would be hard to draw a crowd for anything going on because of how much is going on, but there was some giant outdoor gathering for everyone this weekend.

For starters, the Daichakai (“Big Tea Party”). I had been looking forward to this one for a while. Different schools of the tea ceremony set up tents around the castle grounds to do constant introductions of their respective styles.

A little hard to have an intimate ceremony with that many people, but it works.

The way it works is that you buy a ticket (or three), then turn in the ticket at the reception area of whatever style you want to try. They give you a colored and numbered ticket to turn in at the next open ceremony (the color indicates which time slot you have, the number is for organization purposes). There is typically a tent to wait in or observe flower arrangements. Once they start, everyone finds a seat in a rather orderly fashion, and one host prepares the tea while another explains the actions and decorations and characteristics of their style. The first and second guests (typically) receive tea prepared in front of everyone, while the other guests receive tea prepared behind the scenes by other practitioners. Before received the tea, everyone eats a fancy little wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet, which comes in all kinds of clever shapes and colors, and is usually identical in their level of sweetness–as in very, very sweet). In contrast, the tea is usually very bitter, but the contrast is refreshing.

Inside the tents, everyone is seated on a nice clean chair, and the ceremony typically goes pretty fast, meaning they probably serve several hundred guests over the course of two days. Instead of paper cups, in my experience every guest got to use a fancy cup/bowl, since appreciating the tools is also an important element of the tea ceremony.

This is Houenryu, which was very popular. This was more of an east-west fusion, with black tea instead of green tea, and European style China instead of traditional Japanese tools.

I didn’t participate, but I did enjoy the glimpse of tasteful fusion I did get.

I tried Soshinryu first, which served the tea in a more Chinese fashion–a delicate cup filled with loose leaves, which you keep pushed back with a matching lid as you sip the brew. It was served with an orange and pink and purple wagashi evoking maple leaves and filled with anko (sweet azuki bean paste).

After that I tried Fumairyu, the local style started by Fumai-ko. That had a lot of wabisabi influence (this is a rustic Japanese aesthetic that appreciates imperfection), and was a matcha (thick green tea made from powdered leaves), and had an orange and purple wagashi that looked simple like a piece of gyoza, and was once again filled with anko.

The following morning I went out to Meimei-an (the historic tea house), as this is one of the rare occasions when you can actually take part in a tea ceremony inside. It was removed from everything else and hidden away up a hill, so it certainly felt more formal. This was the Musha-Koujisenke, which was also matcha and had a green, purple, and pink wagashi coated in a sticky azuki bean concoction.

Lucky for me, kimono attire was not required. An umbrella would have been nice, though. Ninja rain attacks out of nowhere.

After the Daichakai, we went down to the south side of town for the annual Oden Summit. Oden is a seasonal food, and while there is a usual menu of Japanese ingredients, it pretty much consists of any collection of food items served in a hot broth (usually a fishy kind). It’s not quite like soup–you don’t eat it with a spoon, but take bites of the items and they gush with broth. It’s a bit of a comfort food, if you’re used to it.

This is closest to what comes to mind when I think of oden, though not necessarily shaped like Himeji castle (not a pine tree).

There were several Matsue vendors (with everything from traditional to Italian style), but also vendors from other prefectures (and Korea). I tried a couple traditional varieties and a kimchi one, but the curry flavored oden was my favorite.

After that, we checked out an event that seemed to have something to do with Nikoniko Doga (which is like, the Japanese version of YouTube, only with more active promotion? Does that sound like the best way to put it? I don’t have an account, so I don’t know…). It seemed to be aimed at a younger crowd, but there were plenty of people showcasing products and companies and organizations from everywhere.

While attendees at the Daichakai were dressed in fine kimono and western formal wear, youths here were also putting extra effort into the way they dressed. I liked seeing both styles!

There were performing groups and individuals on stages, and a group learning a dance to a pop song, and some famous (?) people giving autographs who people lined up to meet them, and then some wandering performers.



Practically across the street from the Oden Summit and lining any available space between the art museum and Lake Shinji, there was the Mizube Arts Festival, full of food and craft and clothing vendors, and jungle gyms for kids, painters working on giant canvases, and performers (both on large and small stages, or just on the grass with microphones, costumes, choreographed fighting and dramatic background music).

Also, notice that island in the distance behind the stage? This is one of the only weekends when you can visit it. So I did! But that’s a post for another time.

By the way, the kami aren’t actually here yet. They still meet meet according to the 10th month of the old Japanese lunar calendar, whereas the humans have switched to the Gregorian calendar.