Posted: 04/02/2021
Category: Japanese Festivals

On the first Sunday of February, I watched with great interest the agricultural rituals within Onda-matsuri at Asukaimasu-jinja in Nara, the fertility of the field here being backed up by the human one.

After staging the ritual of ploughing, there follows the miming of sexual intercourse, taue-tsuke meaning “the plant strikes root”.

Otafuku, the man wearing a woman’s mask, takes out of his bosom several sheets of thin paper – fuku no kami (“wiping paper”, homophone of “the God of Happiness”), with which he insinuates wiping the genitalia.

Photo: Fuku no Kami
©Angela Hondru

Then two masked men throw them on to the onlookers, who are very excited to catch them. According to folk belief, the marriage of two “divine beings” brings forth both fertility and rich crops. The drum under the clothes, whose purpose is to show pregnancy, is thrown away. The gesture signifies the birth of the child and the ripeness of the rice. The “fertility” on the stage is passed on to the public by throwing rice and mochi (“rice cakes”) as well as the pine twigs used at the religious ritual of transplanting the seedlings.

The religious ritual of transplanting the seedlings
©Angela Hondru

The ceremony is called fuku-maki (“scattering happiness”), with the spectators being the beneficiaries of the action as a result of the magic transfer.

Photo: Fuku Maki
©Angela Hondru

All around me I could see only relaxed people, ready to lay hands on “the seeds of happiness”. I tried it too, but I could not catch any. I may not have trained myself enough or I may not have deserved it. Nevertheless, as in many other cases, a Japanese man beside me put a mochi in my palm… lest I should leave the ritual empty-handed.

Though apparently serious, the religious performance is in fact a parody that makes people laugh through it. I suppose the shrine was not chosen at random for such a matsuri, because in the precincts there are many stones. One of them symbolizes the female privy parts. It faces one of the numerous “penis-stones” suggesting they are ready to beget offspring. Tradition has brought forth values that even now render the soul sensitive. The person who connects to its spirit manages to nourish it, enjoying as a reward the very felicity of experiencing it from the bottom of their heart. I must admit I am one of the happy beneficiaries of such a reward.

Angela Hondru
Letter to Japan, p. 13-14
UMC, Bucharest 2020

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