Thursday, July 7, 2011

Doronko Matsuri

The Doronko Matsuri (Mud Festival) and Photo Concourse was held on July 3 in Shirokawa, Ehime. It was held around a little oval rice paddy that had yet to be planted with rice. Hordes of photographers were gathered there already when I arrived. The weather was very hot and muggy, with overcast skies. 

Bulls waiting in the adjacent shrine grounds for their performance in the festival. Strong aroma of excrement.

The bulls are got into the paddy and the ploughs are attached. This is the "Ushi no shirokaki" - ploughing by bulls. The photographers are warned not use the flashes on their cameras lest the bulls go berserk, but there are still plenty of flashes. The bulls do not go berserk, and there is no ghastly scene of photographers getting ploughed into the paddy banks.

The bulls stir up a good deal of lighter-coloured mud, and drop a good deal of fertilizer into the water for the humans to carouse in.

After much shouting and thwacking with bamboo switches and a good deal of mutinous behaviour including kicking water repeatedly with the back legs, the bulls are got in line.

They plough, beautifully. Round and round. Sometimes they go off on their own and are brought back into line with much trouble.

While these bulls do a very good impression of working animals, all the working bulls that everybody used to keep for this ploughing are now gone. The commentary over the loudspeakers informed us that these are 'meat cows' that were trained up at great pains and cost for this performance. Some of the ploughmen are also novices. As one elderly gentleman who took my photo observed, "There used to be more bulls than photographers. Now there are more photographers than bulls." That much was undeniable.

After the bulls come the bean planters, "Aze mame ue". The man in front drives off the insects, the second man tills the soil, the third plants beans, and the forth casts rice husks to cover the beans.

Unfortunately, the fly scarer accidentally whacks the tiller with his censer a couple of times and an epic fight breaks out.

This is followed by a ceremony of offerings from the fields, woods and seas, the "Sanbai oroshi". Unfortunately again, a demon insists on taking part, and the dignified percussionists are interfered with persistently.

The droll commentary from the loudspeaker informs us that the demon just wants to take part in the ceremony. The serious men in hats are in fact not all that serious either - they seem to make a mockery of regular Shinto rituals, which don't typically involve leaning over backwards.

All good fun. Apparently those who actually carouse in the mud have it streaming out of various orifices for a couple of weeks afterwards, and their wives find traces of it in the bedsheets. Nice.

Once the devil got out of the muck, it was time for the "Saotome odori", the dance of the rice planting girls. These were the only participants who were not expected to get muddy. They danced to two tunes relayed by the loudspeaker. Before their dance began, they were the object of frenzied attention from the photographers, and some of the 'saotome' were clearly lapping it up.

Finally, after the mud had been thoroughly ploughed, kicked up, and prayed and danced over, some little boys in straw hats with their faces wrapped with towels planted some rice, "O ta ue". When I snapped a photo, they were doing paper-scissors-stone-step-on-foot.

Not everyone was in traditional garb. These girls from town were quite conspicuous in the rural setting.

The last event was "Mochi maki", the throwing of rice cakes. Some of these little projectiles contain chits for good things like electric fans, cassette recorders and pressure cookers, and so those with an interest in these goods scramble about in the hail of rice to get hold of them.

And that was the end of the Doronko Matsuri. The moment the last piece of mochi fell out of the sky, everybody was gone - off home to Shirokawa on foot, or by car to Matsuyama and cities nearby.
As I was going through the photos I took, I was struck by a certain similarity between two faces.

This might be considered a somewhat offensive comparison, but bear with me. Both are strikingly beautiful. Both are young. Both show concentration in unusual surroundings. In the 'good old days', the bulls and the girls would even have shared the same accommodations, and shared the vicissitudes of farming life quite equally.

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