Omikoshi – wa-shai, wa-shai!!

Omikoshi is an honorific term for Mikoshi – a portable Shinto shrine. (In Japanese, O is a prefix that is usually added to the names of objects to make them sound polite) It resembles a miniature temple building, with the roof usually holding a carved Phoenix. (a phoenix is usually considered a symbol of re-birth, but I am not sure about the significance in this case. I will have to check with my friends in Japan and will update the info later)

On the day of a matsuri (festival), people carry the Mikoshi on their shoulders by means of two or four poles, through the streets of their neighborhood in a procession that usually lasts for a few hours. At the time of the procession, the Mikoshi is decorated very lavishly as the Shinto followers believe that it serves as a vehicle for God/divine spirit at that time. The whole structure is quite heavy..believe me…I carried one for the whole time the procession was on ….and my shoulders ached for months …..Usually, people take turns in carrying the shrine, but I loved carrying it and did not want to budge from my place on the side of the shrine. The mood at that time is ecstatic..the hapi (a special coat) and tabi (special socks) that I got to wear, the shouts of “wa shai…wa shai” – over and over again, the music and the sweat …it was just amazing….i did not wanted to miss a single minute of it.

Omikoshi at Shibuya Center Street



The shrine was first taken to a Shinto temple, basically to let the kamisama (god) or the divine spirit to enter the Mikoshi. It was then taken around the streets of the neighborhood to bring fortune to homes and local businesses in the area. The neighbors set up small stalls every few hundred meters of the procession route, offering water and eatables to the participants of the procession. As the festival is held in summers (i think I mentioned sweat in the para above )…these stalls are real lifesavers, especially for the people carrying the Mikoshi. I remember my friend making me drink water from a straw as both my hands were wrapped around the Mikoshi pole….:) I am sure I gave them a hard time during the procession though they have never mentioned it to me  ….of course I did get to hear that “I told you not to carry it that long..look at your shoulder now”..stuff….but that is OK…

The Mikoshi was then bought back to the shrine…for the divine spirit to return to the temple and take rest. Oh yes, there was tug-of-war after that .Actually, there are a lot of Mikoshi seen on the road that day as each neighborhood has one of its own. So once all the processions end, each one of this neighborhood forms a team and holds various competitions, which are a lot of fun….and yes, i’d like to mention that our team won in the tug-of-war. Finally, in the end, everybody sat down to have a meal together, chit chatting, and enjoying till late in the night….(I have an interesting snap from that day which I will share later  as I need to find it…)

I had a great time that day and the experience of participating in the matsuri and carrying the Omikoshi is just unforgettable!!


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