Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Menkake Gyoretsu - Japanese Mask Festival in Kamakura

On September 18th in Kamakura at the little Goryo Shrine a small but unique festival is held where the participants wear masks which are over 200 years old. The festival is known as Menkake Gyoretsu or Masked Procession. The festival is of uncertain origins but what is certain is that the shrine itself goes back to the late 11th Century. The enshrined kami is that of a famous warrior of the early samurai era - Kamakura Kagemasa popularly known as Gongoro. In fact the locals usually refer to Goryo Shrine as Gongoro Shrine. 

Gongoro was born in Kamakura hence his name and at a young age went to Tohoku to fight for his patron clan, the Minamoto. In one battle Gongoro was struck in the eye with an arrow and he supposedly killed the enemy who sent the offending arrow. Later, a comrade in trying to remove the arrow place a foot upon Gongoro's head which nearly got the fellow killed when Gongoro tried to stab him. Gongoro felt placing a foot upon a samurai's head was a grievous insult whereas to die from an arrow in battle was a noble fate for a warrior. Eventually the arrow was removed and some sources say his eye eventually healed. 

Those familiar with kabuki may recognize the name from one of the most recognizable character plays in kabuki tradition - Shibaraku. In the short play Shibaraku, the character Gongoro makes a grandiose entrance and his features are what many people have come to associate with quintessential kabuki - white face with striking red stripes. The festival on September 18th is held in honor of this great warrior. 

However, the story of the masks supposedly comes from another origin sometime later. The city of Kamakura didn't truly come into its own until a century after Gongoro. After a period of decline in the fortunes of the Minamoto clan, they defeated their mortal enemies in war and the head of the clan, Minamoto no Yoritomo, set up his headquarters in Kamakura. It was here where the power of the land resided in the new military shogunate government with the samurai as the governing class. 

Yoritomo was a strict ruler who often ruled with an iron not too mention bloody fist but he had a soft spot for the ladies especially young ones. Apparently one young girl met his fancy and she became part of the family in a round about but direct way. Due to this her family was allowed to join the Shogun's retinue whenever he visited Gongoro Shrine. The young girl and her family were of common stock, however, so they had to wear masks to hide their lowly status hence the Menkake Gyoretsu festival today. 

Whether that story is true or not, the Menkake Gyoretsu is an interesting festival to see. Before the procession, one can see kagura (shinto ritual dance) performed before the shrine around one in the afternoon. The Procession starts around 2 or 2:30 and is rather short as it is a very local festival - just incorporating the surrounding area of two streets.

Shishigashira - Lion Head

Okina - Old man with noble face

Igyo - man with a monstrous appearance

Fukurokuju - One of the Japanese Seven Gods of Luck

Oni - Japanese Devil

Hananaga - Long Nose Male

Onna - "woman"

Karasu Tengu - Crowface Goblin

Tengu - Long Nose Goblin

Jii - old Man

Hyottoko - funny faced man blowing fire perhaps derived from Japanese God of Fire

The Long Nose Tengu is associated with the Shinto god Sarutahiko Okami. In the Age of the Gods, the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, sent her grandson, Ninigi no Mikoto to Japan to rule it in accordance with heaven. Ninigi's procession was met by the great earthy deity Sarutahiko. He offered to lead Ninigi to the land safely. Today in the mixed form of the Tengu, he often leads shrine festival processions and ensures their safety.

Okame - woman of mirth

Okame is derived from the Shinto goddess Ame no Uzume no Mikoto, the goddess of mirth. Legends say she brought the sun back into the world with an amusing dance when the sun goddess fled into a cave. Okame's pregnancy is a symbol of good luck for upcoming harvests and childbirth.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A few Tokyo Game Show girls

I caught the last part of the Tokyo Game Show at Makuhari Messe the other weekend. I missed the cosplayers which is upsetting because I heard that Luigi was hot - he/she was a girl. I got a few shots though of some of the cute girls working the booths at the expo that people may enjoy seeing.

Sexy Cosplayer Cops are arresting 

Your ubiquitous maid at your service 

 A different breed of .... nevermind

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Drunk Japanese Guy in Boxers Falls in Fountain

At a beer festival in Tokyo, I saw this drunk Japanese guy in his underwear finishing off a beer while standing in the middle of a fountain. I guess he waded over there at first but when he tried to wade back he fell completely into the water. Gotta love drunk people!

Japanese Monks Cutting Bamboo Festival - Takekiri-eshiki

On June 20th, on Mt Kuruma north of Kyoto an interesting ritual is held where Japanese Buddhist monks hack at thick bamboo stalks in order to drive out evil and ensure good harvests. The ritual is known as Takekiri-eshiki and goes back over a thousand years.

The origin of the ritual is said to come from an encounter a monk had with two huge snakes in the 9th Century. The snakes were male and female and they no doubt saw the monk as a meal. The monk, however, was able to kill the male snake with a well-aimed prayer. The female snake pleaded for mercy and promised to guard the waters of the mountain.

In the Takakiri-eshiki ritual, bamboo stalks representing the male snake are cut by sword-wielding monks. There are two teams representing the ancient provinces of Omi and Tamba. It's believed that whichever team cuts the quicker their represented area will have the better harvest.

The monks are dressed as Sohei who were fighting priests of Old Japan

Bugaku is an ancient dance which is performed during the Takakiri-eshiki ritual


About Me

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Tokyo, Japan
Vagabond traveler currently hold up in Tokyo. I've done a far bit of traveling and had a few interesting adventures along the way. This blog is a chronicle of adventures past and present and those yet to come. I’ve been to about 30 countries though some no bigger than a kitchen table. I’ve run with the bulls of Pamplona, hiked the Inca Trail, got mugged in Mexico City, floated down the Nile in an old boat, climbed the Great Pyramid of Egypt, got ripped at Oktoberfest, and rode the notorious Tokyo Yamanote Halloween Party Train.