By Sunday afternoon, the bonfire at our local shrine had become quite a pile (click on any of the pictures see them bigger):
In the photo below you can see a couple of arrows, typical items bought in the New Year to bring good luck and protect the household in the year ahead. They are decorated with pictures of cattle since last year was the year of the cow. Now that new, year of the tiger, arrows have been bought, these ones have come to the end of their usefulness.
Your intrepid reporter got up bright and early on Monday morning to go and see the bonfire before it all burnt away, and get some photos for you. I think it was lit at 7am, and I got there at about 10 past. As with bonfires all around the world, men with sticks stood around poking it.
The main event of the day was a small procession with a portable shrine, following the border of the oldest part of this area. It started at the mini community centre near our house and stopped off at another 4 or 5 en route. As an upstanding member of the community (and because I was asked) I went along to the community centre to help out. Men from the area actually took part in the parade, carrying the mikoshi (portable shrine), playing drums and flutes and singing. Children joined in too. On the whole, the women's role was to feed everyone!
In the picture below you can see the men involved with the parade, wearing white and pointy black hats. We gave them all a full meal (at 11am!) and plenty of sake. There was also food for the children, and hot soup and sake for anyone else who cared to turn up.
In the foreground you can see the mikoshi and men playing drums, and a man playing the role of the shishimai, similar to the lion-dog dragon you see in Chinese parades.
And here they are again. This whole side of the room was opened up to the outdoors so everyone could see what was going on and people could move in and out easily. And so that we could all share in the freezing weather.... Still it was better than last year, when there was a fair bit of snow on the ground.
After eating their fill, it was time for the off. The mikoshi was carried out onto a little wheeled trolley that would be pulled along. Traditionally it is actually carried the length of the procession, but this is of course the easier option :-)
Off they went to their next stop-off point for more food and sake, while we cleared up and then had lunch. I brought quite a lot of leftovers home too, enough for dinner for the boys that night and my lunch the next day...
A few hours later the procession came past our house on its final leg back to the shrine. When we heard the drums I nipped outside to get another couple of photos...
... and met the shishimai again. He did me the honour of biting my head (?), which will apparently make all my wishes come true in the coming year.
I followed the procession back to the shrine where it was unloaded and carried into one of the smaller shrines in the grounds.
Last year H took part in the procession, as one of those shrine-pulling chaps. The weather was terrible but it did look cool with all the snow about. If I can find it (and if I can be bothered... see previous post), I might put some photos from last year up too...