A couple weeks ago, my town had its annual autumn festival. To be honest it puts the Fruita Fall Fest to shame. After looking at the pics I think you will agree with me. The whole festival is centered around structures called chousa, which are found exclusively in western Kagawa. The festival was a great time but I have found it difficult to find english websites explaining the why’s and details of the festivals and chousas so I’m going to do the best I can.
A chousa is essentially a portable shirne. It measures about 16 ft tall. The top is elaborately decorated with gold paint, wood carvings, and textiles. It is actually hallow and has a drum inside which is continuously hit by a child that has been selected to spend 72 hours locked in the small space. (ok maybe this sounds a little slave like but I think they rotate drum pounders, I’m still pretty sure they stick children down there). Each chousa weighs in at 2 metric tons or about 4400 lbs.
Each neighborhood in my area owns a chousa. All the families pay a yearly due to fund the shrine. It takes a few decades to save enough money to buy a new chousa as they cost around 600 grand. That’s in dollars, not yen. The chousas are the neighborhood’s pride and joy. Each one has a name, and rivalries has sprung out of the festival.
Once a year the chousas come out to play. Men over the age of 18 are recruited from each neighborhood to carry the chousa. That’s right I said carry. Oh yeah remember they weigh in at 4400 lbs. I’m pretty sure that’s more than a car. It takes about 80-100 men to manage the giant “floats.” Friday is the first day of fun. The chousas are pushed and pulled throughout town to show off their beauty and size. The big festivities begin on Saturday. In the morning the chousas are wheeled from their “homes” the the Kotohiki Temple, or center of the festival. That’s where all the magic happens.
Once again the streets are lined with my favorites of the festival foodage. This time around I opted for the squid on a stick, and of course, a taiyaki. At the temple each “team” takes turns showing off their tricks.
Back at the temple the teams carry the chousa, lift it above their heads, and sometimes even toss it. It isn’t just the weight that makes these tricks interesting to watch. In order to pull even the simplest of tasks off you have to coordinate 80 men to work together at the same time. In addition to the weight of the structure, each chousa usually has about 4 men riding on them to “cheer” and call the tricks. One of my friends had been carrying the chousa for many years. Chousa carrying in his words: “Its hard. Its soo soooo hard. So we drink. We drink a lot of sake, a lot of beer, and more sake so we can continue.” So in addition to coordinating 80 men, most of them are drunk. When the chousa’s travel though town you can see a truck following behind with “supplies.”
Unfortunately this year it was raining. So for most of the time clear tarps were covering the chousas. While they were still nice, it was kinda like looking at them through mosquito nets. My friend said they looked like brides. I like her explanation.
After 5 hours of exhibition the chousa’s take off to parade around town again. A couple hours latter they meet in the town center. By this time it was dark, and things got a little bit roudy. There’s less space so its a bit more crowded and the men carrying have been drinking for several hours and seem to have no problems testing the limits of their floats. Luckily this isn’t one of the deadly Japanese festivals like naked man. Lit up against the dark sky the floats seemed even more spectacular.
I ran into more friends and students around town and they gave me the lowdown on chousas. Most of it was in Japanese so I didn’t understand much and forgot what I understood. All in all a good time.