Fox Wedding Festival

I’m taking the easy way out tonight and giving you a post that I don’t have to write much of – it’s already written for me 🙂

First – I’ll give you my part in the whole thing:

I teach an Adult English Language Class every other Monday night in Kudamatsu, a city neighboring Hikari. It’s usually the same 4 people – all over the age of 50. They teach me more than I teach them – of this I am positive. They are magical – each of them. One of them makes homemade bags… I’m at a loss for language right now to describe them, but her work is beautiful. She is also versed in kimono-wear, correctly putting kimonos on people (it’s so intense and time-consuming it’s an artform nowadays!). Another does calligraphy and has taken up jogging. Yet another is a tennis fanatic and is involved with tennis clubs all over the country. The last one is the leader of the class. His English is superb, and he is very proud of traditional Japanese customs and festivals. Through his sheer excitement and joy for them, he keeps them alive. Which brings me to the crux of this story.

Toshihiro-san, the leader of my Adult class, invited me to the Fox Wedding Festival. It’s held every year in Kudamatsu, and he has always invites ALTs and other foreigners to come experience it. The Fox Wedding is a parade in format, and it brings in good luck for a plentiful rice season. There is a Fox Bride and a Fox Groom, and it’s strictly forbidden for anyone to know who they are. They wear masks and a traditional outfits. Toshihiro-san guesses that the festival committee chooses two high school students, to further enhance their anonymity. The “couple” doesn’t actually get married – although I read somewhere that it has been done with a real couple before – but they signifty a marriage and symbolize good fortune in Kudamatsu. After the parade there is the equivalent of a “reception” – where all the attendees celebrate the rice season… (or… something?).

And now I’ll leave you with Toshihiro-san’s translation –

“The Origin of Fox Wedding”

Once upon a time, a Buddhistic priest lived at the Hosho Temple in Hanaoka, Kudamatsu-city.

He practiced ascetism to get a higher spirit of Buddhism, and he was virtuous and longed to be like the older, more experienced priests.

One day, he went to Tokuyama [[city next to Kudamatsu]] and it was evening when he had finished his errands.

After the sun set he was heading for his temple, but he wasn’t anxious about walking in the dark, because it was a familiar road. After he had passed the hills, he could see his temple. Suddenly he noticed that he had lost his Buddhist rosary.

He looked for it everywhere, but he could not find it. He was obliged to return to his temple, but he could not fall asleep all night becuase of worrying about the rosary.

He was dozing off for a moment, when something appeared to him, vaguely, because of his half-awake, half-asleep state.

The spirits that appeared said, ‘We are the spirits of the white fox mates from Shiamuga forest. We have brought your rosary tonight. In return for it you must bury our dead bodies like human beings at this temple.

If you grant our request, we will promise to protect the temple and the people who live in the nearby village from disasters.’

After hearing the voices, the priest awoke. To his surprise there was the rosary, which he had lost somewhere, laying near his head, neatly coiled.

The priest immediately took the dead bodies of the white foxs and buried them the same way as human beings. He then held a memorial service for them.

Thereafter people increasingly came and visited the temple hoping for the miraculous recovery of things which had been lost. The temple had become famou for finding ‘lost things.’ The white fox mates have been enshrined in the precincts of the Hosho Temple since then.

The Inari Matsuri (festival) is held annually on Novembr 3rd here at Hanaoka, Kudamatsu-cit. The pageant claled F”Fox Wedding” is very famous in this area.

Every year on November 3rd, visitors come and see the pageant. Usually more than 40000 people attend.

This number has dwindled considerably in the last decade or so. Nowadays, there are still around 3-5000people in attendance. One of the women in the class mentioned tonight, too, that foxes are one of the animals used as “gatekeepers” for shrines. I know these as “Sheisa” – they originated in Okinawa… and they are statues of lions (although they look more like dogs to me… which I guess can also be used for the same purpose!). With Sheisa, there are two statues, one on either side of the tori (shrine entrance… kind of thing). One has its mouth open – to let out evil and the other has its mouth closed, to keep in the good. Lions, dogs and foxes, especially the rare White Foxes, are revered.

Oh, also –

I thought I was going to the festival… in reality, I was in it. I’ll let the photos tell that story 🙂

We arrive at the festival, and Toshi-san takes me to the shrine where it begins... and says - hey, have fun. Meet me back here in 30 minutes, so we can put on our outifts. Our... what? So I climbed the million steps to the shrine and took it in in all its beauty. This is from the back of it, as I was wandering through the woods.

Toshi-san and I arrive at the festival, and he walks us to the shrine where it begins. He says - meet me back here in half an hour, and we will put on outfits. Have fun! My thoughts - umm... what outfit? I shrugged it off as my next adventure, climbed the million steps to the shrine, wandered around the back of it to the woods and took it in the site in all its ancient glory.


I walked around the different food stalls (steak on a stick = win) and watched these dancers. There's a video at the end of the post if you want to see them in action!


If parades in the states are known for things that fly and people that dance, parades here are known for things being carried and people doing the carrying. I was a carrier for this... thing. These are lanterns on it - I wish I had any clue what it meant or represented, but it was pretty sweet to be involved! We were at the head of the parade. Plus, I got to wear this sweet outfit.


Toshi-san and me. I kind of wanted to keep the rad headband! I wish I could remember the name of the outfit... hobi? Maybe? (I am so tired right now...). My bulky sweater underneath didn't make it very flattering, but I felt so awesomely Japanese that it didn't matter!


NOW I'm lookin' the part! Many people painted their face to resemble a fox or had a mask.


After we went, the group behind us in the parade was a series of small, adorable children in traditional Japanese clothes, being carried on these carts. It was so precious.


I'm pretending to be carrying it with the others. I was too tall, and when I actually tried to help lift it, it was lopsided - the men were all way shorter than me! We would also come to points in the road when we stopped walking forward, and instead lifted it up and down in a wave kind of fashion, screaming a "hoorah!" kind of cheer, and walked in circles with it. No idea, again, what it all means, but it was fun!


There were a few rest stops along the parade route, where we could set the thing down. A woman would run out and pass around small cups of liquid. The guy next to me - another American that Toshi-san invited - had one, happy for water, until he realized it was SAKE. I had to laugh. This is Japan, friend - sake IS water! 🙂


Our team finished the parade route with plenty of time to see all the other groups. Here are the stars of the day - the Fox Wedding couple!


It's tradition after the end of the parade for mochi (Japanese sweet rice cake kind of dessert thing bobber) to be thrown out into the crowd. It's said that if you catch mochi, it will bring you good luck for the next year. I didn't catch any. I should watch out this year 😉

Festival dancers – pretty cool – sorry for the bad angle.

The festival was on November 3rd – it was a public holiday for “Culture Day.” I’m proud to say that I used it wisely and was very cultured by the end of it! I adore how much this country loves festivals – they are great fun. Now that the Fox Wedding is over, I’m counting down the days until the NINJA FESTIVAL (it’s not until like April, so I have a lot of days to count!). Seriously – this country just keeps getting cooler. 🙂


Next post: Okinawa or karate – here’s to getting caught up!

Hope you are all loving life and life is loving you.


~ by C on November 17, 2009.

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