The other day, after another session of cuteness at Linden Hall, most of the gang went to a festival at the Hakozaki-gû Shinto shrine near Hakata, myself included.
The shrine venerates the kami (god) Hachiman whose spirit was somehow moved there from another shrine in 923AD. Also, the shrine stands for the memories of certain Emperors: Ôjin, Jingû and Tamayori-bime. Good guys I bet (actually, Jingû was a girl!).
Here is the shrine:
The festival reminded me of the Oktoberfest somewhat, beautiful surroundings, a hallowed history, loads of beer (though considerably cheaper and pissier this time around), food and fun. The Shrine itself was bedecked in ritual: various stands in the central courtyard had been opened up to show Japanese art and manufacturing, surrounding a main building under which rather Byzantine rituals were taking place. Berobèd monks, with big green hats, processed forwards and backwards, banging taikos, all the time avoiding the angularly raked white gravel that formed pools around the sanctum. A family was sat on seats in the middle of the ritual. Perhaps it was a blessing for them. All of Japan’s contradictions were evident right there: the family bowed their heads beneath a tall red Shinto portal, but in the mother’s hands were grasped two or three big flashing sticks such as one finds at a funfair, presumably to keep her son distracted through the solemnity of the ceremony.
Henry-san and I wandered round the grounds which went on for miles. Hundreds of stalls, attractions and beer tents formed a network of streets. Yakitori was popular, octopus balls, chilled pineapple slices, choco-bananas, beer, weird slush things, moshi (sweet little rice cakes), gyoza (pork and prawn dumplings too. Henry-san and I had cans of Asahi (500yen each!) and sat down in a tent to eat what seemed to be a fried salad, bound together by egg, barbecue sauce (which made Henry-san wretch) and hideously fishy dried tuna flakes.
A good night was had by all I dare say: Rory-san managed to win a little turtle in some sort of game, but was then convinced to hand it back when he realised that keeping a pet turtle was probably not going to be all that convenient.
The architecture of the shrine was glorious, but it was clear that despite Shinto and despite Buddhism, food is the religion of Japan. And all I can say is Alleluia!