May 6, 2010

Sake is a Must for a Festival in a Mountain Village

It is no exaggeration to say that, in Japan, sake is drunk where a festival is held. They bring sake brewed in the vicinity as offering at a temple or shrine festival. Yesterday, I visited a shrine in a montane village in Okutama Town, Tokyo to see shishimai (lion dances). And, sake had an important role as a nice supporting player of the festival.

The shrine is located on a mountain slope, and the approach way to it climbs along steep stone steps. There is a torii gate halfway, and beyond and above the torii gate, stands the main gate of the shrine. This is a two-story gate. The steps continue climbing even under this gate. If you walk through the gate and come out, you'll find yourself in a square. The square is almost as high as the second level of the gate building, and if you turn around, you will see a stage on the second floor of the gate building. So, this architecture is unusual as a shrine gate.

The mountain slope further continues beyond the square, and another flight of stone stairs leads to the main building of the shrine above.

On both side of the stairs in front of the main building, there are stonewalls and the places are formed into several tiers so that these tiers can be used as audience seats that look down the stage of the main gate. General visitors sit in these audience seats to see lion dances dedicated to this shrine while those concerned with the festival and guests sit on the stage floor and eat foods and drink sake. On the stage floor, several bottles of the local sake Sawanoi are seen near one of the low tables.

A funnily masked clown appeared in the program called "Yumi-gakari." He was dancing with a bottle of sake hanging from his waist.

After a while, I found that the clown was not there any longer. I wondered where he was. Soon, I found he had started serving sake to the audience. Assumedly, the sake was the one he was hanging from the waist while he was dancing. To my delight, he was coming toward me. I was given some sake. It was fun to exchange some words with him while drinking the sake. This was really a delightful festival.

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