Saturday, 1 June 2013

A Festival On My Doorstep - The Story of a Samurai Spirit


Kanda. Outside of Japan it's not somewhere I've ever heard of but here in Tokyo it's where I call home. There was recently a huge amount of festivals (or matsuris)  in Tokyo and we attended a few. Seeing that the Kanda festival was right on our doorstep (almost literally) we thought we'd follow the procession. 




The festival takes the shape of a procession of people in costumes as well as either pulling along or , rather impressively, holding up, elaborate floats. 




As the procession passes through neighbourhoods (I guess Kanda could be likened to a borough?) different neighbourhoods' floats will break off and others will join. Presumably this is because it takes a lot of effort to hold up the floats and maybe also because it was raining. 


This tengu headed up the procession (I am assuming it is a Tengu, if you happen to be a Shinto follower or study it please leave a comment and correct me). (remember how I learnt about tengu up on Mount Takao) Check out his amazing sandals or geta, they're so high! So the procession I believe will start in its respective "borough"'s main shrine and its route will circle round. The festival originally started to celebrate the winning of a particular battle, but now it is to honour the kami of the main Kanda shrine. The shrine in Kanda , known as Kanda Myojin (I haven't been yet, I KNOW IT'S AWFUL) is a shrine where you can find three kami or shinto forms of god. What's cool about Kanda Myojin is while it is where businessmen go to pray to Daikoku-ten and Ebisu, both gods of fortune (also Ebisu's story is mega cool, need to go to the Myojin and take some good pictures so I can share it with you), but it's also home to a person who became a kami called Taira No Masakada. 

Masakada's pretty amazing but his story's pretty complicated. Basically he was an outlaw (not to mention a samurai) and while yeah, he had his fair share of run ins with the imperial government and did his share of pillaging he went to the government in the end (way back around 937) with what is assumed to be a plan to improve the current imperial laws that were in place in the form of a take over. The government at the time obviously weren't happy with this and he was killed. His head was separated from his body and buried near the Kanda Myojin Shrine (it apparently flew there by itself, apparently landing in a small fishing village which later became Tokyo).


Despite his misgivings people in Japan respected Masakada for standing up to the -The Man- and made him a kami in Kanda Myojin. When the emporer was put under pressure to name Tokyo's Ten (most important) Shrines he did not want to name Kanda as one due to its association with a government protester and he took away Masakada's kami status. But he was such a popular spirit (and apparently still is) that he was symbolically returned to Kanda Myojin after World War 2 (now there's a festival I'd like to have seen!) 


It's said that Masakada's spirit is like he was in life, powerful, pretty violent and vengeful. And when the shrine falls into disrepair he reeks havoc on the countryside bringing natural disasters, so presumably they keep the shrine in pretty good nick! Another reason I really have to go visit! 

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