Boom! Did you hear that? Boom! Is that fireworks? Boom! No, its a huge drum.
For the past week, all around the city the deep earth shaking bass of drums could be felt. Tuesday kicked off the Kurayami Festival at the Okunitama Shrine. Which is a week long festival held during a string of National holidays referred to as, ‘Golden week’ here in Japan. This festival is the largest in this area and draws close to a million people to Fuchu during the week.
We had heard whispers and rumblings of the Kurayami festival since first day we moved here; and as the festival drew closer, excitement around the city grew. Neither Megumi or I had ever been to a festival of this size and weren’t sure what to expect. We were counseled by members of the church to avoid going near the shrine in the evening because it might scare the boys.
Kurayami means darkness in Japanese and thus the main festival events take place at night. But we also observed a different kind of darkness, spiritual darkness. As the drums began there steady pounding, the city came to life. No matter where we went we saw people dressed up in festive clothing. Every neighborhood seemed to have their own events happening that tied into the larger festival. You couldn’t avoid the festivities if you tried. People dressed as demons danced through the night. The largest drums paraded throughout the city welcoming the enshrined gods from each community to the main shrine. People stayed up all night eating and drinking. By the end of the week the entire area around the station, usually kept neat and tidy was a stinky garbage ridden mess.
For all the spiritual darkness in that exists in today’s festival, things used to be much worse. This is an excerpt about the former festival I found on Wikipedia.
“The Kurayami matsuri (くらやみ祭り Darkness Festival) is claimed to be one of the three oldest festivals in Kanto region. This festival is held every year, between 30 April and 6 May. Originally this festival was described as an utagaki (歌垣 courtship song festival).
Ryotaro Shiba, a Japanese essay writer and novelist, observed that this festival resulted in disorderly conduct by the participants. He claimed that, amongst the single men and women who had gathered to sing and dance for each other, were also those who were married and who intended to have sex under cover of darkness. In the Meiji Era, facing criticism from Christian missionaries, the authorities put a stop to this festival.”
In its place, Kurayami Matsuri was created. Kurayami means ‘darkness’ and matsuri means ‘festival’ in Japanese. It was originally held during the night, but this was changed to evening in 1959.”
In the almost year I’ve lived here, my heart has grown increasing fond of this city. There is so much to love about Fuchu that it is sometimes easy to overlook how spiritually dark it is. However, the constant beat of drums in the distance this week changed that. Seeing this city give itself over to idols both literal and figurative, reminded of the great need for the gospel to be made know throughout Fuchu. It’s the same feeling I get when I view Tokyo from the top of a skyscraper. An enormity that can only be addressed through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in this city.