Shirakawa-go is a very special place, one of the most beautiful villages of the Japanese Alps and perhaps of the whole Japan, if you are more interested in the town than in the festival just jump straight to this article about the village of Shirakawa.
These days people pray to the god of the mountain offering him the doburoku sakè to ask for a good harvest.
Different days, different shrines, today is the day of Lijima Hachiman Shrine. At 9 am, the religious ceremony begins in the jinja (Japanese word for Shinto shrine), there isn't a big crowd right now, this morning celebration seems to be a matter for the "insiders", the actual organizers, performers and local religious authorities. The first doburoku is brought to the altar and some prayers are told, then is poured for the people to drink. But what is the doburoku sakè?
Despite the fact that the morning's sake is meant for the insiders as soon as the people become aware of our presence we are immediately poured some. Sometimes being foreign is comfortable.
And the party begins...
Shishimai, the Japanese lion dance
Two kids, around 10 years-old I guess, fight the lion with various wepons. Their movements are swift and fluid, a show of very good skills for such young kids.
The dance seems to have been imported from China during the Tang Dynasty and was associated with the celebration of the birthday of Buddha. The style varies from region to region. Apparently there are up to 9000 variants.
From the Buddhist rites the dance was borrowed to Shinto ceremonies, as here, and it's also performed to celebrate coming of the new year.
The wooden mask of lion is called Shishi-gashira and is handled by a man who plays the lion head, other two men behind him are the body of the lion, all are under a colorful cloth.
Now the thing works like this, you pay 400yen to purchase a flat cup and then you can drink all the sake you can, or even more. We sit down and some ladies go serve the sake seamless, when they see an empty cup they run to fill it.
On stage there are singers and peasant dances but nobody seems to care, everybody is to much focused on the sake drinking. The drunk Japanese do such things they would never do when sober. A guy even hugs us!
We're offered some very nice sashimi, everything seriously begins to blur.
Because of the crazily expansive hotel's price all around Japan, many people just sleep in their cars when travelling, not just the young and adventurous, but also families and older couples.
Indeed the parking lot is full of people sleeping in their cars. That's why we saw so many abandoned hotels everywhere around in Japan.
We go with Koji to see the lion dance in the evening, the long version this time. They perform on a big jute rug and both dancers and musicians are visibly exhausted. The kids keep on fighting the lion, adding new moves and techniques to the previously used ones, they may be slightly less tired than the older performers but sweat is clearly visible on their temples. This time the dance lasts more than one hour.
For hints and trip about traveling in Japan on a very tight budget (less than 10USD per day) read our guide here.
To have a panoramic of our Japanese bicycle touring project, check our itinerary on this other article.
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