Sunday, 4 April 2010

Kamisya - Onbashira in Chino

Onbashira HilltopImage by ijiwaru jimbo via Flickr
An awesome day wandering around looking for logs, drunks, photo ops and sunshine (still a bit nippy in the shade).

People kept giving us booze! I'd forgotten to bring a cup, but it didn't take long before Tana & I had both been collared with offers of sake & ume shu (plum liquour). Throughout the rest of the day we were plied with sake from generous tree-pulling, happi-jacketed, red-faced gents (thank you!)

I vaguely remember seven years ago - I say vaguely because I ended up extremely drunk, skulling sake in the sun & being treated by Bridgestone friends. I recognised the hill, and found a way around the crowd to the top of the hill where the logs were descending (four of them, altogether) line astern, attended by their hundreds of pullers/steerers/cheerers/chanters etc all in their gaily coloured jackets. Everyone was having a good time - police officers being teased by drunk old goats in a way that simply couldn't happen in the UK, cartons of sake or bamboo tubes filled with grog being proffered to friends and strangers alike. By the end of the day our pockets were bulging with cup sake!

As we had arrived the first log (call it the red one) was tipped over the lip of the crest, edged a bit further then bang - one of the big fat anchor ropes snapped & the log et al rapidly disappeared from view heading off to the right of the course. Everyone OK? No idea, but a lot of concerned participants quickly raced up the edge to look over. bizarrely, the same thing happened to the next log an hour later, after Tana & I had wriggled our way to the front. Here it was possible to see the spaghetti of ropes and anchors carefully laid out to help prevent carnage (that's the plan, at least) with teams on either side also help steer & balance the thing - here in Chino the logs have antlers/horns/outrigger looking things (next week in Suwa they do not) with young men proving their verility not clinging on for dear life, more like bull-riders with arms aloft.

Once the hill-drop has been negotiated, the logs are dragged (this 1200 year old tradition would seem to pre-date the invention of wheels?) through the streets - houses lining the course are obliged to offer sustenance to passers-by (all 2 million expected this year?!), and indeed we were invited to in to 'Please get drunk with us'. Hard to decline such wonderfully hospitable offers but I was keen to photograph this septennial event as much as I could. The outriggers barely squeezed between the houses/under power lines; every care taken by the teams to pick up their litter (tree bark mostly), all the while chanting, imbibing, smiling & dragging!

The procession was playing follow the leader down to the shrine, where these logs are raised vertical in a later ceremony (June). Barring the way is a river, which is forded en masse; we were shivering in the stiff breeze...plunging into this Apline run off at this time of year only for the foolhardy! Here, as with the hill, action preceded by lots of shouting & precision lining up; band playing their team tune; old lady wailing in a high-pitched prayer carried afar on the wind. As with the hill, people can & do get killed here, so there were rescue divers in the water just in case. Didn't seem to be any untoward drama today, but pulling a tree into & then out of a river with 50 odd guys on it not the simplest thing to co-ordinate.

As we lurched homewards, more sake from the last team, and an invitation Tana was unable to refuse to climb a bamboo pole. Smiles literally everywhere as everyone intent on having a good time and having it on time. For such a big event, seemingly chaotic, this went like clockwork. everyone has a job, and in the thousands all chipping in (very Japanese) to the greater mission. Really annoyed I'm going to be in Kyoto next weekend - would love to see how things work in Suwa (Shimosya I think?)

Brilliant day out - make a date in your diaries for 2017! Check out the other 699 photos on Flickr
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