Dousing the Evil Flame 米川の水かぶり

On January 12, 2017, I was witness to the Mizukaburi Festival of Yonekawa (米川の水かぶり) in the City of Tome, Miyagi prefecture. This is an annual festival which is said to be over 800 years old. Men enwrapped in a costume made of straw parade through the town dousing homes and businesses with buckets of water. They are acting as agents of a fire deity enshrined at the local temple. It is believed that this ritual action drives away the evil forces seeking to harm the community by sparking a flame, which in the extreme could be the seed of a conflagration engulfing the many wooden buildings that tightly line the streets (a major historical concern in Japan). Spectators yank on the straw of the costumes hoping to take some strands home, for it is believed to offer protective power, bringing good luck throughout the year.

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A Final Resting Place 針の安らぎの場

Just recently returned from Kamakura City (Kanagawa prefecture). On February 8th, at the Egaraten Shrine, the annual memorial service for needles (針供養 hari kuyo) was held. Women bring bent, rusted, broken, and otherwise exhausted needles to the shrine. One by one the participants gently prick the surface of a large, specially made tofu (bean curd) cake. Pressing their palms together, the women then offer a silent prayer for the repose of the souls of the needles, now at rest in the soft, soothing tofu. Gratitude is expressed for the needles, who busily assist in the work of the housewife, seamstress, and hobbyist, selflessly sacrificing their tiny steel bodies, even to the point where they collapse and break, hewn asunder.

Tanabata 仙台の七夕

According to legend, on the night of the seventh day of the seven month (July) the two stars, Altair (牽牛星 Kengyūsei) and Vega (織女星 Shokujosei) are allowed to cross the Milky Way (天の川 Amanogawa, literally the “river of heaven”). From this once a year cosmological occurrence an annual event has emerged known as Tanabata 七夕 (“night of the seventh”). The Tanabata ritual festival consists mainly of decorating lengths of bamboo with colorful paper decorations on which wishes are written. In doing so, it is hoped that the wishes will come true. Tanabata has come to be associated with Obon お盆 (the summer festival when the spirits of the dead return to the land of the living) because it acts as a purification ritual (禊ぎ misogi) in preparation for greeting the returning spirits of dead ancestors during Obon. The making of decorations and the subsequent celebrating of Tanabata is widespread, although the festival held in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture is particularly famous drawing large numbers of tourists from all over Japan.