Hiromi and I rise early (4:00) to view the Autumn Festival, where the gods are toted through the streets on portable shrines. When we reach Dogo Station shortly before five there is a sea of people flooding the streets, There are people in every window, on every balcony, and even on the ledges of Bocchan's Clock, presumably inactivated, as I watched to see what would happen when the hour struck and nothing did.
Every one comes out
for the Autumn Festival,
including the gods
but the folks in Bocchan's Clock
are notably absent.
Eight portable shrines carried in procession down the steps from the Isaniwa Shrine. Those who carry the shrines wear distinctive robes marking them as members of a particular martial arts school. An occasional fight breaks out on the margins but they are rapidly squelched by vigilantes from these groups. There are riot police in clusters of four or five here and there but one realizes they can do little if pandemonium breaks out. People bring platforms and stepladders to gain a vantage point over the heads of other spectators. A man on a ladder propped on a pole MC's the ceremony and warns over his microphone that people must be civil and courteous, that if anyone gets hurt the festival will stop immediately. But he is like a dog barking at the waves of an ocean. I am most impressed by what a fine painting the scene would make.
people climbing ladders
to pluck the sights
so many smiling heads
peering from windows
the people gathering
To my surprise the shrines begin to batter one another. Those riding on top either tumble off or hold on for dear life. When one shrine is emptied of its passengers the other is declared the winner. Hiromi tells me this symbolizes the wildness of the gods. He has made sure that we stay in a place in which we are not likely to be in harms way if a stampede occurs. Last year a falling shrine crushed someone. (I don't think it was in Matsuyama.)
The department stores and restaurants will do a good business on this day and in the evening the gods will be ported back to the shrine proper in a more solemn procession, I would imagine.
Hiromi drives me to the airport. On the way I ask him what Kobo Daishi's real name, Kuhkai, means. Kuh means zero or nothing, and kai means sea. Nothing Sea. Elf-eyed Kim, the Queen of Matsuyama appears just before I depart.
And somehow, when the plane is above Osaka, a bit of saltwater splashes through my eyes from the nothing sea.
at Matsuyama Airport