The Gift of 神輿 Mikoshi

東松山のまつり photo by w00kie
How can I ever support this heavy beam on my shoulder? That's what I remember thinking when I looked at the 神輿 Mikoshi. I was intimidated by the size of it. Of course I was only 10 years old.

When I was growing up, my best friend was Japanese. His mother invited me to go with his family to a festival. Suddenly I was being conscripted to be one of the 担ぎ katsugi or Mikoshi bearers! I didn't understand at the time what an honor that was.

In Japan, not only is it an honor, it is somewhat of a civic duty to carry the Mikoshi. Hatsumi Sensei inherited the 34th Soke of 戸隠流 Togakure Ryū in 1958. He says that in that same month he carried the Mikoshi along the street.

Someone found a Happi coat for me and helped me put it on. My friend's mother also found a karate kid looking head wrap that she tied around my head. Then they lead me over to the Mikoshi where it sat on the saw horses...

I looked around awkwardly at all the strong men who were doing calisthenics, preparing to lift this small house and carry it through the streets. They were all strong looking and Japanese. I was a skinny red headed white boy. I had no idea what I was going to contribute to this effort, but I thought I would try my best.

Even though I felt out of place and had no idea what was going on, the men were very welcoming. Suddenly, they all crouched underneath the beams. I found a gap and pressed my shoulder into the wood. I was preparing to grunt and heave when the whole thing seemed to fly into the air with a shout.

I was left nearly hanging from the beam! The men were all taller than me, so they hoisted the mikoshi onto their shoulders and far above my own shoulder. I looked around confused about what to do. They all encouraged me to stay in my spot. I pushed up as hard as I could with my palms.

Next thing I know we are lurching down the street to the trill of a whistle from our guide. He would give long notes to start or stop us from moving and short beeps to keep us in rhythm. We round a corner and and into the large crowds gathered along the parade route. I had no idea we would have this large audience.

Suddenly I felt so proud. I felt proud of my friend's Japanese heritage. I felt proud to be included. No one I knew in my community had ever even heard of sushi back in those days, even less Mikoshi.

Japanese people were thought of differently back then in my hometown. My Grandfather fought against the Japanese in WWII. His brother died on Iwo Jima. I could say more, but those times have past. I personally felt like a bridge between these two worlds in that moment.

That was truly a gift from the kami inside of the Mikoshi.


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