Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Hatagashira

In many regions of Okinawa, people enjoy tug of war events. These events started over 600 years ago, during the Ryukyu Kingdom Era, for the extermination of harmful insects or exorcism when a plague was spreading. Today, these events are held for the pray for good harvests, morale uplift, or even exorcism.
Hatagashira is a must have item for any tug-o-war event on Okinawas. The shape, decoration, and words etched on it differ according to the region from which it came. It is believed that God will descend on the tall Hatagashira of a team or group that will join the tug of war to bring it good fortune. Hatagashira usually approach from east and west together with the people participating in the tug of war but, Hatagashira are found at other events for the purpose of morale uplift or just preservation of tradition.
The Hatagashira of Okinawa can be likened to the OMikoshi or Mikoshi of mainland Japan. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a Mikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine. Shinto followers believe that it serves as the vehicle of a divine spirit in Japan at the time of a parade or celebration. Often, the mikoshi resembles a miniature building, with pillars, walls, a roof, a veranda and a railing. Typical shapes are rectangles, hexagons, and octagons. The body, which stands on two or four poles (for carrying), is usually lavishly decorated, and the roof might hold a carving of a Dragon or a Phoenix. In all my years on Okinawa, I have only seen one Mikoshi but I have seen many Hatagashira.

During a matsuri, or Japanese festival, people bear a mikoshi on their shoulders by means of the two or four poles. They bring the mikoshi from the shrine, carry it around the neighborhoods that worship at the shrine, or in an organized special event or a parade. The Hatagashira however, is carried upright by one person at a time and bearers will switch out as they become tired. Others are positioned about the pole to catch it should it fall. In Japan, overhead wires are a constant concern and the hatagashira is lowered when necessary to avoid them. Still, if it is windy, it can be problematic if the hanging banners suddenly catch a strong gust as seen here.
During the Naha Matsuri and in preparation for the Great Tsunahiki or "Tug-O-War" sixteen teams, eight representing the East and eight representing the West, all proudly bearing their Hatagashira will march the length of Kokusai Dori or "Inetnational Street," past the prefectural building to the Kumoji intersection, a distance of roughly two miles. Then just before the great Tsunahiki, they will again gather where the ropes will be joined to dance and perform karate demonstrations for the crowds just before the big tug-o-war.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Not your Father's Hatagashira

The Naha Matsuri "festival" was held the weekend of October 9th, 10th and 11th, Big events in addition to the music, food and fireworks was a parade down Kokusai "International" street and the great Tsunahiki, which we will be posting about in out "Goya Republic" blog (Linked Here).

A big part of the Tsunahiki is the parade where civic groups from around the island (16 in all) parade down Kokusai Street with their Hatagashira's These are long poles, around 10 meters in length that are decorated and carried upright the length of the street. If anyone has seen a "Mikoshi" parade in mainland Japan, that is what this can be compared to.

But it's not just for the mighty. Even the little ones are in training for the day they get to carry the big pole.
The expression on the one lad's face reminded me of the refrain from an old "Beatles" song that goes: "Boy, you're going to carry that weight, carry that weight a long time!"

"OK, so it ain't ten meters tall but neither am I!"

More pictures and posts as the week progresses....