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The lively ritual of the Kuroshima Tenryo Festival

The opportunity to experience another culture was one reason I chose to continue my studies abroad. I think learning from a new perspective and broadening one’s way of thinking are important experiences for developing skills as a student. Moreover, stepping outside one’s comfort zone and embracing habits very different from one’s own are significant experiences. I have been in Japan for five months, and it is all very new to me. From matters as simple as how to greet another person to complicated ones such as religion and ritual, things are very different compared to my home country, Indonesia. It is very fascinating to engage in activities in Japan that are exotic to me.


One such experience involved participating in a Japanese festival (matsuri)—the Kuroshima Tenryo Matsuri—for two days. The word tenryo originates from the Edo period. Kuroshima was tenryo territory, directly controlled by the Tokugawa Shogunate. Kuroshima covers an area of about 20.5 ha. The black tiles of roofs, window grids, and clapboard sliding were outlined against the backdrop of the ocean, and green hills framed the beautiful view of the town. Although a wide range of buildings dating from the Meiji period (the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries) to the present are found in the town, the Edo-period layout remains well preserved. The main street runs through the town, along which families of mainly shipowners and sailors live in traditional Japanese-style buildings. Considered part of the Traditional Architecture Preservation District, many buildings in Kuroshima were damaged by the Noto Peninsula earthquake in 2007. One-third of the 286 buildings in the district were at least partially destroyed, and Kuroshima’s historic scenery was endangered. However, to preserve the town’s beautiful scenery, the Kuroshima District Renovation Council was founded with the goal of having local people maintain and renovate the historical townscape. Through cooperation between residents and politicians, on June 30, 2009, the Kuroshima District was selected as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Historic Buildings in Japan.


The matsuri is held to celebrate the religion and culture of the Kuroshima community. People parade their mikoshi (portable Shinto shrine) and tsukurimono (vehicle for God) around town. They hope that by doing so, God will visit the houses passed by the parade and bless the inhabitants as well as their ancestors. In Japan, tsukurimono assumes many roles and shapes, which vary depending on the town holding the matsuri. Noto in particular usually parades kiriko—the lantern type of tsukurimono—but in Kuroshima they parade dashi, also called yama. In general, dashi or yama is pulled by people while mikoshi is shouldered. Dashi and yama are usually very big, reaching a height of 8–10 m. It resembles a mountain since Japanese believe mountains are God’s sacred places.


The festival was held in the second week of August when it was sunny all day. Students from Kanazawa University and Kanazawa Seiryo University arrived around lunchtime at Monzen Town Community Center, where we spent the night. Mr. Shuichi Haruma, chief of the Kuroshima Ward of Monzen Town, Wajima City, and Mr. Yoichi Komatsu, chairperson of the executive committee of the Kuroshima Tenryo Festival, greeted us before the preparations. After brief explanations about the schedule, we found out that we, the girls, would be flag raisers, and the boys would be responsible for two parade floats (yama). After changing into the uniform for the parade, we went to the Hachiman Shrine, located on top of a hill, and the ritual began there. After the people in Kuroshima and students carried mikoshi from the shrine down to the town, the male students helped move the floats out of the Kuroshima Tenryo Kitamae-bune Museum where they are stored.


On both days, we paraded through the town from around 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. It was very fun and exciting, despite the scorching sun. People of all ages—children as well as elderly—took part in the parade, and the town became colorful and lively. Residents greeted us as we passed in front of their houses. I had never seen such energetic elderly people, and to my amazement, they could still carry heavy things by themselves. I think the feeling of matsuri was also beneficial for the town’s residents because it gave them a kind of youthful feeling and a spirit that activated their town. Through the festival, we, students from overseas, learned a lot about them, their culture, and their community. The residents’ kindness and hospitality, as well as the exciting feeling we experienced during the matsuri, were among the reasons why I could not wait to visit Kuroshima again.   (A. P.)