Thursday, February 21, 2008



It’s over, done, finished, past. The Konomiya Hadaka Matsuri climaxed into everything I hoped it would and more. For the past 2 weeks nearly I have been attempting to understand if not to at least witness the many ceremonies and events preceding the final frenzied fifty minutes.
It all started with the divine selection of Mr. Ogawa Tomoyoshi as Shin Otoko or God-Man. Chosen by the Gods to absorb everyone’s bad luck for the entire year ahead he was clearly aware of the situation’s gravity.
Yesterday morning, after the madness of the day before, he looked a changed man. Positively beaming and radiant, the burden of his responsibility clearly lifted.

In its pure simplicity it is a brilliant concept: exorcise your ill fortune simply by touching the Chosen One. The reality though came crushing down hard, the combined force of thousands of men all trying to do the same thing at the same time hard.
To prevent overheating by the energy released in this mass collision of ecstatic bodies, the centre of the action, with the Shin Otoko its nucleus, was incessantly doused with ice cold water. It seemed to have little effect as the water instantly evaporated to create a layer of ominous steam rising from the mad crowd.

Those who could not, would not or were not allowed to partake in the mass assault, the elderly, women and children, didn’t need to fear a year filled with misfortune for tradition prescribed many ways to ensure a year of clear sailing ahead. The bad luck could be pounded into mochi, rice cakes made by putting steamed rice in a granite mortar and using a large wooden sledgehammer for pestle. Entire neighborhoods had thus made huge rice cakes that were offered to the shrine in the two days preceding the grand finale.
The biggest of them all was made by a well-known mochi factory and weighed a mere 4 ton.
As it is public knowledge that evil spirits hate the sound of tearing cloth people would shred pieces of red and white material and tie it at specific locations in the Konomiya Shrine.
Another method was to write your name and age on a piece of material then tie it to a large bamboo pole. On the main day of the festival these poles would then be carried and offered to the shrine by the participating men.

Now that I am looking back on the events of the past weeks and ask myself why do people do all these things, why do they fear bad luck and devise simple, ingenuous ways to cast it away, I remember the text written on the cover of the photo albums Inoko-San, a former Shin Otoko, had lent me in order to prepare for the festival:

And in all kinds of weather,
For family and friends, it will go on forever.
Innocent on the whole human race
In the world everywhere.

It is beautiful, it is weird, it is crazy, it is poetry and it all makes perfectly no sense.

Not Here Anymore, Not Quite There Yet.

© Hans Kemp, 2008