Running with the gods

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It was 5:30pm on a warm Wednesday in the small town of Aso on the island of Kyushu. I was drunk, drenched in sweat, and on the verge of a coronary. I was also missing one of my recently purchased and highly treasured flip-flops. I was in crisis. So, how did all this happen? I had been carrying the gods around at a Shinto festival.

Despite carrying the gods of Aso around all afternoon, I never got to see them. The mikoshi, portable shrine, holds their spirit. An elaborately decorated and prized object, each mikoshi weighs around 400-500kg. Carrying one around, even with seven strong shoulders to assist you, requires strength and commitment. I had neither of these attributes.

Fortunately, some boisterous mikoshi-carriers had the perfect cure for my cowardice. Soon after beckoning me out from the crowd, they fed me some Nihonshu. The 2 litre bottle of rice wine, passed amongst the dozen or so members of our group, fortified my spirit. It also drowned rational thought. After a few swigs, I was a Devonian Gladiator.

Taking on fuel and painkiller

Unfortunately my muscles weren’t as deceived as my mind. Foolishly ignoring calls to move to the back right, apparently the least demanding position, I stayed propping up the middle and the front. Then we began to run. Why? I don’t know. Whilst running and chanting, we raised the mikoshi above our heads. Well, the blokes around me did anyway. I just concentrated on staying on two feet and not crying.

Eventually, I had to sneak off before the festival’s climax, nursing a bruised shoulder and a torn flip-flop. My fellow mikoshi-carriers, with more stamina, were planning to stay out late partying. One former Aso resident had even flown in from Tokyo just for the event. Taking part in this communal ritual, held for the locals as much as visitors, was a highlight of the tour. Worth a flip-flop anytime.

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