Thursday, October 19, 2006
A violent river of irresponsibility, drug abuse, fights, cruelty. The Saijo Matsuri was a nightmare for some, heaven for others. My experience was posed somewhere in between, feeling the pleasure and the pain, the wonder and the disbelief. Early Sunday morning I helped carry a danjiri; one that had no tires. First of all, I must say that I was moved deeply by the constant current of kindness and care accompanying me the entire night and morning. My danjiri team was unrelenting in their kindness; my arumikappu runneth over.
And there were times during the journey up to Isono shrine that were absolutely amazing. In the deepest moments of exhaustion, when the pain in my back and shoulders screamed for me to stop, I fell into a kind of savage surrender and ecstatic submission to the pulse and power of the danjiri—the drum beating the single heart of the community carrying its body. I looked around me and thought, “this might suck, but at least we are all in it together!” You know that feeling? That feeling of connection, of real connection through pain or accomplishment? That feeling still hums deep inside my belly. If there is a Spirit, I think it can definitely be found in that feeling of connection, in that shared space of “we” or “us.” In Saijo I swam in that space, and felt the freedom and fullness of opening up beyond myself and into that shared space, that team spirit, that We, that Us.
I also felt the danjiri work as a magnet drawing my attention into the timeless present moment, sizzling and pulsing with feelings and friends, all singing and stumbling down the street in drunken fun and play and delight. But there was also spite, agony, and anger. I saw too many girls crying or passed out, overdosed and draped carelessly across the side of the road. I saw one girl with a bloody face lying in the gutter. I saw fights break out. I saw what looked like rape; two girls passed out in a harvested rice field being touched and fondled by an older man, in the daylight, with the festival moving along right beside them. I felt like walking over and punching the pervert in his face. It was horrible, and wonderful: the Saijo Matsuri.
The Niihama festival wasn't nearly as drunk or dramatic. Or, at least, not in the same way. I helped carry the Matsugisakai taikodai on Tuesday, and since there were 150 to 200 men with me (as apposed to the twelve men carrying the danjiri) the kindness, community, and care were gone, but were replaced with a larger communal heart thumping to the beat of a louder drum. The grunting and chanting and energy was amplified ten fold. And so was the danger. Our takodai’s entrance into the park was actually delayed by an ambulance screaming to get through. We waited in silence.
During the last competition, our taikodai won! We held our float above our heads for almost seven minutes! I thought my shoulders were going to dislocate! When it was over we all burst into an exhausted cheer, clapping and high-fiving each other.
The next day at Ikku shrine I saw an old man fall in front of a charging taikodai—the worst thing that could have happened in that moment. It was very scary. Once a taikodai begins to move, it can’t be stopped. Everyone screamed and frantically kicked and grabbed the old man, who just kept stumbling. In the end, right before he was lost beneath the stampede, he was actually thrown out of the way and into the crowd. The old man stumbled to his feet and surprisingly seemed quite happy, his eyes twinkling.
The Niihama taikodai: golden storms adorned with dragons dragging everyone together, the entire city, ushered together to celebrate…what? The harvest? To celebrate the gods? Perhaps, but I felt that it was really to celebrate community. To cheer each other on. To get drunk together and admire what we can accomplish when we are motivated.
Both festivals had extremes, angles and demons, compassion and cruelty. I guess the festival was a perfect manifestation of the wide spectrum of our humanity, its power, and its horrors. I close my eyes; shake my head to what horrible things I saw. But I also try to remember the goodness and care I witnessed flowing throughout the streets of Saijo and Niihama during this intense and incredible week.
Posted by David at 3:50 AM
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