Hey there everyone. So, yesterday was the second day of the festival here at our shrine, and it's the day when the BIG portable shrine comes out. Around ten, they had a ceremony in the main shrine, where a bunch of what seemed to be big wigs in suits, attended and took offerings from the assembled priests (about 8 of them), and placed the things on the altar, then everyone filed out and went inside for lunch, which I helped serve. Afterwards, everyone from the neighborhood came into the courtyard and assembled around the portable shrine, which had been brough out and placed on A frames in the very middle of the courtyard, and then the high priest, my host dad, and some other priests said prayers, put a wooden altar thing with a branch on it on the float, and then they put a wooden box inside the portable shrine. Just a few quick facts: turns out that they only bring out the big shrine once every two years, so I was lucky that I got here when I did. Also, as it was explained to me, the shrine acts as like, God's car (I think he was in the box), and so he gets in and goes for a ride around the neighborhood so the people who don't get to see the inside of the main shrine, can see him sorta, and pay tribute. There are a string of these Shinto festivals that pass in a line from one part of the city to the next, so next weekend, they'll be doing it again somewhere else in a different shrine one county over. Our particular shrine cost either 10 million dollars, or 10 million yen (I'm betting Yen, so $100,000), and is quite heavy, being made almost entirely out of gold, with a golden phoenix perched on top. Also, to be a lower level priest, you have to go through four years of learning (I know this because my older brother is a lower level priest here, and participated in the ceremonies). Also, your rank is indicated by the clothes that you wear for the ceremonies.
Anyway, after the prayers and what not, teams of people all dressed in their particular uniforms (always shorts and a jacket, with a symbol on the back), got together and with great chants and stirring yells of encouragement, they heaved it aloft, and watching the signals by their leaders (indicated by the waving of fans), and certain whistle combos, the bore it out of the shrine courtyard and onto the streets, parading it around the neighborhood, with the help of the cops, for four whole hours, never stopping. There were food stalls still, and I learned that what I had once assumed were prayers pegged up on that wall thing, are actually the names of people who have donated money. There were drummers and musicians until around 5, when they came parading back, excitement on their faces as they knew they were close to getting to put it down. A man with a mic said a few words, the carriers held it up as high as they could, and then after about fifteen minutes of maneuvering to get it just right, they finally got to put it down. I can't even describe what an experience this weekend has been, but watching them lift the shrine aloft left me with a feeling similar to that of national pride that you sometimes feel in America. It was beautiful and amazing, and here's a video so you can see part of what I saw: