Note to the readers:

This article by Nishant Annu was first published on 2018-11-08 on his blog. We, at Japamigo, are very excited to feature his article for the third time on our web-magazine. We hope you enjoy reading Nishant’s article!

Picture of the two large trees by the side of the shrine
“Jiro” and “Taro” are 44m and 46m tall, respectively, with a circumference of ~9m! These guys are huge!

Hada Shrine is located in Kesennuma’s mountainous western region. Originally built in 721, this place is steeped in history and grounded in tradition. Visitors hoping to pay their respects to Hada’s mountain god will be faced with a steep climb of 200 stone steps. At the top of these steps, you’ll find the ancient pine trees, “Taro,” and “Jiro” which Hada is known for. From Tohoku, to Kanto and Kansai, I’ve been to some of the most famous shrines in Japan. But even among those, I think there is something special about this place. There’s a profound stillness here among the trees that washes away the wear of even the dreariest days. And the view from the top rivals the best spots in Kesennuma Port.

Every November, Hada has its Togyo Festival. “Togyo,” is a ceremony in which the mountain god is transferred from its regular place to a portable shrine called a “mikoshi.” This mikoshi is then paraded through the city on its way to the sea, stopping at the homes and businesses of locals wishing to share in the good fortune from the mountains.

Picture of the author and other young men carrying the portable shrine
It might not look like much, but the mikoshi actually weighs around 300kg! Carrying it over uneven terrain is an exercise in teamwork.

In the olden days, it’s said that the majority of the procession’s distance was covered by volunteers carrying the mikoshi on foot. Nowadays, the mikoshi is loaded up into a truck, so most of the work involves unloading it at each of the stops so the locals can offer their prayers, and then holding it up high, so that people can walk underneath the shrine to receive the mountain god’s blessing.

Picture of the head priest offering prayers to the portable shrine
The head priest offers a prayer for the locals who have gathered at one of stops along the way

This year was my second year participating in the festival. From sunup to sundown it’s a busy day. The morning prayer starts at 7am, and from there, things start to fall into a pattern: Load up the mikoshi into the truck, drive up to the next stop, unload and set up for the ceremony, then drink the sake that’s been prepared by the local residents at each stop.

Picture of two young men in white robes traveling with the portable shrine on the back of a truck
Festival swag

Lugging around a 300kg mikoshi is a full-body workout…

Picture of the young men in white robes attempting to pick up the portable shrine
Photo courtesy of Shota Takamoto
Picture of a man in a white robe drinking sake
When you start with your first cup of sake at 7am, you’ve gotta pace yourself, or you’re gonna have a bad time in the afternoon…
Picture of a few men gathering around a stall offering light refreshments
Some stops have light refreshments like tsukemono (pickled vegetables)
Picture of a man holding out an onigiri to another man, with the backdrop of other men enjoying soup
While other places might have something more hearty like onigiri and soup
Picture of a tonjiru soup bowl
When it’s cold out, nothing quite hits the spot like tonjiru

Picture of the a part of the portable shrine overlooking a field of paddy

Picture of the shrine beside a local tofu factory
Making a stop at a local tofu factory
Picture of the head priest standing in front of the shrine, with other people standing by a sake brewery
Just when you think you’ve had enough sake, the mikoshi makes a stop at Otokoyama Honten’s sake brewery…
Picture of four men in white robes being served sake by a lady
Aww come on, you can’t say “no” to this stuff!
Picture of the portable shrine at the kesennuma port
Kesennuma Port at last, but now we’ve got to go all the way back.
Picture of the shrine being carried by the people at night
By the time we’ve hit the last spot, it’s well after dark
Picture of the mountain god being transferred to its original place
Upon returning to Hada, there’s a ceremony to transfer the mountain god from the mikoshi back to its original place in the shrine

And then, it’s onto the after party with more sake and beer!

Hada’s Togyo Festival is a real endurance test, but the experience is worth it! If you’re going to be in Kesennuma in November, hit me up, and maybe you can join in the fun, too!

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