Thursday, January 25, 2018

Namba Tsunahiki; Giant Monsters in Osaka

難波八坂神社 の 難波綱引き神事
Namba Rope Pulling Ritual

Namba Yasaka shrine is has one of the most interesting pieces of architecture in Osaka; the ema-den is shaped liked an enormous lion's head, like the lions head used by shishimai dancers. In the shishimai dance, it is lucky when the lion bites your head, so it is interesting to see a display staged that is entirely set inside a giant mouth.
The lion head is 12 meters tall.
In addition to the huge head there are also several sets of interesting komainu (protective lion-dog statues).
The shrine was originally built around 1069. The current structures were built after the area was destroyed by fire bombing in World War II. The shrine now includes a memorial to soldiers lost in WWII as well as a memorial to a specific ship.
The shrine offers special charms that are imprinted with images of the lion's head ema-den.

Namba Tsunahiki, yoi, yoi!

On the third Sunday of the year, the shrine hosts a special festival, called the "tsunahiki." Tsunahiki literally means "rope pulling" and is also the name of the tug-of-war game, which is a standard piece of school sports festivals.
The Namba Tsunahiki Ritual, the Namba Tsunahiki shinji, is meant to recreate the mythical scene in which Susano'o, the god of storms and the diety of Yasaka shrine, defeated a giant serpent with multiple heads. called "Yamato Orochi." In the myth Susano'o saved humans from hardships by subduing the monster, so the various festivals which has representations of Orochi (in the form of giant ropes or giant torches) are meant to ward off plagues and bad luck while inviting good luck, prosperity, health and good harvests. 
Starting at about 10 in the morning shrine members gather and start braiding ropes together to form one enormously thick length of rope. Braiding the ropes together takes several hours sand the ropes eventually become thick and heavy enough that teams of man have to coordinate elaborate rhythmic movements to form the rope. 
The center of the rope is bound into a large heavy core for the heart of the beast. This knot is split and frayed by volunteers from the audience but only by women. This is interesting, as in the story of Susano'o and Orochi, Orochi demands the sacrifice of the villagers daughters until Kushinadahime helped  Susano'o defeat Orochi.
When forming the heads of the serpent, everyone is welcomed to help splay the strands once the ends of the ropes have been cut.
The final rope serpent is about 30 meters long and weighs about 300 kg. 
When a special paper banner is installed in the core the rope is pulled taught by two teams, which is where the name of the ceremony comes from.
Next the rope creature is loaded onto a cart and paraded around the neighborhood. The parade party consists of the rope serpent, a long 3-pronged spear, a banner and two men carrying shakujo (staff with jangling rings). 
During the parade, participants cheer "Namba tsunahiki, yoi, yoi!" along with the beating of a drum.
This ritual has been a tradition since the 18th century. The ritual has spread across Japan and this event at Namba Yasaka is considered an "intangible folk culture property of Osaka."

The ema-den as the ropes are beaten into shape with a mallet.

Men carrying the 300 kg rope.

The main sanctuary (honden) of the shrine was rebuilt in the 1970s.

Hanging ropes on which omikuji are tied on the shrine grounds. A typical site at shrines around New Years.

The ema plates depict a very buff komainu and colorful shishimai masks.

A coordinated team braids the ropes.

A komainu (with a mari ball) posing face to face against the ema-den lion.

Extra rope and straw mats.
Not the sake barrel. Sake plated an important role in the Orochi story as Kushinadahime brewed it to intoxicate and subdue Yamato-Orochi.

The spear banner of the shrine in the foreground.
Note the Nobunage emblems on the shrine roof.

Bronze lanters hanging from the eaves of the shrine.
Various komainu posed along the stairs.

Artists sketching the lion head.

Ema for the year of the dog.

The heads of the serpent being prepared.

Good luck charms in the shape of tai (seam bream fish).

A German volunteer helping fan out the fibers of the rope.

The ceremonial head of the monster is marked.

The tug-of-war portion of the ritual.

Sacred paper marking the hear of the beast.

The burning bamboo looks like smoking canons.

The orochi is loaded onto a cart.

The parade route as it passes Namba station.

Adjusting the f/stop for dramatic effect.

Volunteers bang the drum as the parade marches on.

A photographer with loads of handmade cats.
He was giving out little cats to other visitors.
He specializes of taking photos of old-style Japanese town-houses.

An interesting bronze lantern in the ema-den.

The ema-den with the orochi placed at the center of the stage.

Artists drawing the shrine.

Note the lights installed in the eyes.

You can see the shishimai masks on display behind the glass.

A German cosplay fan?

Charms for sale.
Note that these are being sold on an honor system, there is nothing to keep you from taking out the charms but you should drop in your money first.

The shrine supporters wearing their danjiri team jackets.

Pounding the ropes into place.

A master of the ceremony.

Forming the serpent.

International exchange time.

Volunteers preparing the ropes.
At other festivals, this part of the festival has been restricted to only women.

Senior members of the shrine posing for photos.

About to start the parade.

The Orochi wrapped and presented on the stage. It will remain here for months.
Note the designs on the floor, there are similar to the traditional prints on the fabric used for the shishimai costume.