Tiger Protection Festival
- At July 27, 2016
- By anneblog
- In Annes Letters
Japan has always been keenly aware of the elements. Earthquakes, tsunami, floods, and fires have marked the history of this archipelago as much as, if not more than, emperors, shogun, and samurai. Because of the acute reality of natural disasters, the Japanese have always made every effort to protect themselves against them. One ancient form of protection is festivals.
These times of ritualistic merrymaking are a means of evoking the gods, who are often slumbering in shires, mountain forests, or the depths of the sea. These clamorous events are so noisy and festive that they evoke the gods’ curiosity, awakening them and inviting them to come closer to our human world. During these privileged times of divine visitation, we mortals ask for their blessings and protection. And when offered enough sake and raucous behavior, the gods comply.
One such festival of protection began 650 years ago in a small farming community north of Sendai. This plea for protection is called “Hibuse no Toramai Matsuri”, or “Tiger Dance Festival for Fire Prevention”.
In that area of Miyagi Prefecture, the winds have always been particularly fierce. When houses were made of wood and thatch, these gales created a real fire hazard. Since these storms are so fierce, long ago the locals selected the strongest animal they had ever heard of to counter them: the Tiger. Unlike their elaborate Chinese counterpart, these creatures are touchingly primitive.
These human tigers climb onto roofs tops, where they shake and sway to the beat of taiko drums and whistling flutes.
Even though these tigers are endearingly simple, they are not superficial by any means. First, of course, they are the ones that remind everyone to be careful of fire. They are also the ones who receive mentorship from the elder fire fighters, enabling traditional knowledge and wisdom to be transmitted through the generations. But perhaps most importantly, they are the ones that pull the entire community together, and hold them there as a cohesive unit.
What better protection – from any kind of disaster – could there be than a sense of meaningful purpose, mentorship, single-minded focus, and a strongly united community?