A Holiday Scene - A Matsuri - Attractions of the Revel - Matsuri Cars- -Gods and Demons - A Possible Harbour - A Village Forge - Prosperity of Sake Brewers - A "Great Sight."
TSUGURATA, July 27.
Three miles of good road thronged with half the people of Kubota on foot and in kurumas, red vans drawn by horses, pairs of policemen in kurumas, hundreds of children being carried, hundreds more on foot, little girls, formal and precocious looking, with hair dressed with scarlet crepe and flowers, hobbling toilsomely along on high clogs, groups of men and women, never intermixing, stalls driving a "roaring trade" in cakes and sweetmeats, women making mochi as fast as the buyers ate it, broad rice-fields rolling like a green sea on the right, an ocean of liquid turquoise on the left, the grey roofs of Kubota looking out from their green surroundings, Taiheisan in deepest indigo blocking the view to the south, a glorious day, and a summer sun streaming over all, made up the cheeriest and most festal scene that I have seen in Japan; men, women, and children, vans and kurumas, policemen and horsemen, all on their way to a mean-looking town, Minato, the junk port of Kubota, which was keeping matsuri, or festival, in honour of the birthday of the god Shimmai. Towering above the low grey houses there were objects which at first looked like five enormous black fingers, then like trees with their branches wrapped in black, and then - comparisons ceased; they were a mystery.
Dismissing the kurumas, which could go no farther, we dived into the crowd, which was wedged along a mean street, nearly a mile long - a miserable street of poor tea-houses and poor shop-fronts; but, in fact, you could hardly see the street for the people. Paper lanterns were hung close together along its whole length. There were rude scaffoldings supporting matted and covered platforms, on which people were drinking tea and sake and enjoying the crowd below; monkey theatres and dog theatres, two mangy sheep and a lean pig attracting wondering crowds, for neither of these animals is known in this region of Japan; a booth in which a woman was having her head cut off every half-hour for 2 sen a spectator; cars with roofs like temples, on which, with forty men at the ropes, dancing children of the highest class were being borne in procession; a theatre with an open front, on the boards of which two men in antique dresses, with sleeves touching the ground, were performing with tedious slowness a classic dance of tedious posturings, which consisted mainly in dexterous movements of the aforesaid sleeves, and occasional emphatic stampings, and utterances of the word No in a hoarse howl. It is needless to say that a foreign lady was not the least of the attractions of the fair. The cultus of children was in full force, all sorts of masks, dolls, sugar figures, toys, and sweetmeats were exposed for sale on mats on the ground, and found their way into the hands and sleeves of the children, for no Japanese parent would ever attend a matsuri without making an offering to his child.
The police told me that there were 22,000 strangers in Minato, yet for 32,000 holiday-makers a force of twenty-five policemen was sufficient. I did not see one person under the influence of sake up to 3 p.m., when I left, nor a solitary instance of rude or improper behaviour, nor was I in any way rudely crowded upon, for, even where the crowd was densest, the people of their own accord formed a ring and left me breathing space.
We went to the place where the throng was greatest, round the two great matsuri cars, whose colossal erections we had seen far off. These were structures of heavy beams, thirty feet long, with eight huge, solid wheels. Upon them there were several scaffoldings with projections, like flat surfaces of cedar branches, and two special peaks of unequal height at the top, the whole being nearly fifty feet from the ground. All these projections were covered with black cotton cloth, from which branches of pines protruded. In the middle three small wheels, one above another, over which striped white cotton was rolling perpetually, represented a waterfall; at the bottom another arrangement of white cotton represented a river, and an arrangement of blue cotton, fitfully agitated by a pair of bellows below, represented the sea. The whole is intended to represent a mountain on which the Shinto gods slew some devils, but anything more rude and barbarous could scarcely be seen. On the fronts of each car, under a canopy, were thirty performers on thirty diabolical instruments, which rent the air with a truly infernal discord, and suggested devils rather than their conquerors. High up on the flat projections there were groups of monstrous figures. On one a giant in brass armour, much like the Nio of temple gates, was killing a revolting-looking demon. On another a daimiyo's daughter, in robes of cloth of gold with satin sleeves richly flowered, was playing on the samisen. On another a hunter, thrice the size of life, was killing a wild horse equally magnified, whose hide was represented by the hairy wrappings of the leaves of the Chamaerops excelsa. On others highly-coloured gods, and devils equally hideous, were grouped miscellaneously. These two cars were being drawn up and down the street at the rate of a mile in three hours by 200 men each, numbers of men with levers assisting the heavy wheels out of the mud-holes. This matsuri, which, like an English fair, feast, or revel, has lost its original religious significance, goes on for three days and nights, and this was its third and greatest day.