Liou's quiet little life...or is it?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Temple carrying and salt throwing

Saturday two weeks ago I experienced some traditional Japanese festivities and sports. With some of my colleagues I went to Asakusa, the most famous, touristic temple of Tokyo in a popular area. That weekend it hosted the Sanja Matsuri (festival of the tree gods), where most of the inhabitants of each small neighbourhood of Asakusa carry around a miniature temple. They go through the whole area and get a blessing at Asakusa's main temple.

The event was especially nice since it showed a more popular side of Japanese culture, and especially of Tokyo, shitamachi. This means literally downtown, and refers to the time where the rich people would live higher up in the hills, and the popular class in the lower areas in cramped neighbourhoods, which would regularly take fire. Although this distinction has been disappearing, you can get an idea of the shitamachi atmosphere during the Sanja festival for example. Everybody walks in short festival gowns, and goes about drinking beer and eating such things as roasted meat and fish.

The more 'popular' side was even more clear, when we saw a group of fully tattooed men going around with a temple of their own. They were actually the only one to stand on the temple, in a an act that could be interpreted both as ostentatious and profane. From the characters on their gown, it was clear they were part of a yakuza-clan. A very rare sighting, as the yakuza is known for being as discrete as possible.

After this, we went to the day before the final of a sumo tournament. As we were 20 (!), it was difficult to get hold of tickets, and we were seated very much to the back. But it was nice getting a feeling of the game anyway. The most surreal thing was the shinto-like roof hanging in the middle of the hall, which reminded me somehow of a Magritte painting. Sumo matches are a little bit difficult to watch, as the sumotori first spend a lot of time throwing salt in the arena, looking at each other, deciding to throw salt again, etc. It's only after three or four minutes that they really start the fight, and usually it's finished within 10 or 20 seconds. Quite a build-up for a very short interval of action. But of course, it was still impressive.


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