U-Matsuri

DSC_0034Inside the shrine

You may be wondering why the opening photo of this post contains so much noise and I have a pretty good explanation.  I took it about a week ago in Hakui, up on the Noto Peninsula during U-Matsuri (the Cormorant festival.  The event took place on December 16th at 3:00 am at the Keta Taisha shrine.  While inside one of the shrine buildings no lights were allowed while the bird was inside.  This is to prevent the cormorant from experiencing additional stress.  I lightened the photo in photoshop so that the bird was more visible than in the original shot.

I traveled to Hakui on the last train out of Kanazawa on the night of the 15th.  It was cold and windy.  Snow, sleet, and hail flew around outside the train.  The train ride was comfortable as are most trains in Japan if you can get a seat.  At the Hakui station there were no attendants to ask for directions.  I thought of walking to the shrine.  I had a few hours yet before the festival would start and the walk was only about two miles.  But it was cold.  And dark.  Oh, and wet (various forms of precipitation fell throughout the night).  Plus I was not 100% sure which way I needed to walk.  I ended up taking a taxi, which only took around 10 minutes or so.

This meant I had time to kill when I arrived at the shrine.  I wandered around for a bit; both to explore and to keep warm.  I had packed extra layers, tea, water (hot and cold), chocolate, and some mikans.  I layered up and kept hydrated and fed during the wait.  Wandering around the shrine in the dark and the cold was an interesting experience.  Wandering near the temple though (there is a Buddhist temple next door) was, for lack of a better word, creepy.  It was dark and the shadows kept shifting when the wind blew through the trees.

Eventually people started to arrive.  I made my way inside the shrine building that would be used, warming up slightly.  A very kind gentleman explained some of what the priest was saying before the ceremony began.  Mainly about light and flash restrictions that would be in place at certain times.  This was important information and I am glad thought to share it with me. Actually, everyone was extremely kind and welcoming.

After releasing the bird inside of the shrine it was placed back into its basket.  I was not sure what was happening but the various news crew employees did.  They rushed outside with their cameras and lights.  I joined the crowd, walking through the shrine grounds.  I was unsure where exactly we were going as we made our way downhill.  The cormorant was secure inside of its basket, carried by two of the shrine’s priests.  Every so often they would pause and everyone would take photos.

DSC_0218The cormorant in its basket

I was surprised to hear the ocean.  Logically I knew we were near the beach but it never really occurred to me that it would be involved.  It was dark and the beach was littered with various items strewn up by the storm surge.  We stumbled out onto the sand, stopping just short of the water.  Except that the waves swamped us.  There was laughing as some people tried to escape getting wet.  I was glad I wore my hiking boots.  My feet remained warm and dry.  After the cormorant was released (amid a flurry of camera clicks) we all made our way back to the shrine grounds.

This time we were in a different building.  It was then that the head priest interpreted how next year’s luck will play out based on the release of the cormorant.  Although not very many people attended this event the fact that about half of the attendees appeared to belong to various news agencies indicate that this is a serious event.  Afterwards I spent some time speaking with the head priest before joining everyone for a delicious breakfast of crab, buri, soup, rice, and various other small dishes.  I’m not a fan of crab but this crab tasted amazing.  The whole experience was very interesting.  I plan to return to Keta Taisha during daylight in the near future.

DSC_0225On the beach

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