Sunday, January 18, 2009

Climbing Demons

And I'm not actually talking about my kids.

We went to a groovy festival last night, the highlight of which was a Kagura dance Oni demon who climbed up a bamboo pole. I say pole, but really it was a bamboo tree, propped up firmly on the ground, and secured at the top with three guide ropes. I'm sure it was three storeys high to the tip of the leaves.

There was a bonfire beside it, and a large pan set on a tripod over the bonfire. Three traditional musicians sat by the side, playing the drum, cymbals and flute. First they did traditional kagura dancing, with a 'priest' and a 'demon' dancing round and round the fire, the priest eventually subduing the demon. During this dance, the demon comes and takes little children from their parents and spins them round. This is for good luck, but the babies of course scream, much to everyone's amusement. Erica got taken for a few seconds, and was thereafter much afraid, and clung tightly to me whenever she saw one.

Finally the climbing began, and three more onis appeared, and they took turns trying, and failing, to climb up. Finally one demon managed to do it, in bare feet, no safety equipment, shimmying up the pole, stopping occasionally to applaud himself and work up some support from the crowd. It was so exciting watching him get higher and higher (I wonder if the 'failures' weren't deliberate to make the feat seem all the more amazing), afraid he would fall or the bamboo would topple over. It swayed dangerously, but they straightened it with the guide ropes.

He made it to a cross-post high up, and untied a package of confetti, which he threw into the wind, then a bag of mochi (pounded rice cakes) which he threw for good luck. Amy and Lena managed to score some, I was too busy holding Erica and trying to take photos on my phone - Kanji took the camera to his party, and I regret letting him have it! He's going to come home with boring photos of people I barely know getting pissed, and you're going to have to squint to try to see the demon in a crappy tiny phone photo.

The descent was not a let-down - instead of coming down the pole, he slid down one of the guide ropes. Half way down his body fell off and he hung by his hands for a minute, before hauling himself back up on the rope again, then sliding down the rest of the way, with a flourish, but with no gloves or other protection from the ropes. Must have hurt!

There followed the official opening, and speeches, then another priest did some rituals in front of the huge bamboo bonfire, before three official took flames to different parts of the bonfire. I lit slowly at first and I thought I'd have time to go back to the house (this was all happening in the rice fields behind Jiichan and Baachan's house) and recharge the video camera batteries, but it suddenly took hold and whooshed up into huge flames, again 2-3 storeys high.

I was in a total panic as I was downwind and hot ash was flying around - and I had no idea where any of my children were! Amy and Lena had been running around all day with some friends from school, and I had last seen them over by the climbing demon. And a woman I vaguely know from the Stand took Erica as I was trying to photograph the men lighting the fire. Turns out she knew more than I did about how fast the flames blew out of control, and she took her far away. So when I looked around to find them they were gone!

I skirted round to the upwind side of the bonfire, and finally found Erica sitting happily in Jiichan's arms, then Amy and Lena in the furthest part of the field from the bonfire. Heat and common sense sent them there.

After the fire started to die down, the food was served - free pork and vegetable soup, fried chicken and other fried foods, and a dessert of mochi in a soupy sweet bean paste, called zensai, a special festival celebration food that no-one likes much.

I went back the house after that, but the excitement wasn't over yet. I managed to lose Erica, after we got back to the safety of the house and I let my guard down. I thought she'd toddled off to the kitchen, but when I went to see what she was doing (it was suspiciously quiet - Mums know the deafening sound of silence when toddlers are involved) she wasn't there. The door to the hall, and the front door was open. I had a split second to choose between checking the bath room and outside.

The bath is always full, as Baachan fills it with special filtered water during the day. The door is always open, but the cover is always on it and Erica isn't really aware that the bath is in there, the way she is with the bath at home.

So I chose outside, and ran out, in my socks. I couldn't see her, but just as I ran out the door, I heard Amy and Lena calling to her. They were on the other side of the river on the road leading to the festival ground. The river runs across the back of Jiichan and Baachan's back garden, disappearing into a culvert and the new road on the far side of the river runs diagonally to meet the car parking area at the rear of the house. So we could walk down the parking area, meet the road, and double back along it past the back of the garden on the far side of the river.

I thought she'd managed to toddle all the way across the parking area, find the road and start walking along it, where they happened to be. I started to follow, watching Amy and Lena run towards the river, still no sign of Erica, then Lena let out a chilling, genuine scream of terror, and I was convinced Erica had fallen into the river, which was not deep, but very muddy. So I quickly changed direction and headed toward the river, yelling to Amy and Lena to tell me where she is, and seeing them point towards me over the river, and all I needed to know then was exaclty where she'd fallen in so I could jump in there, as I knew I wouldn't be able to move far in the mud, I had to go in where she was.

Then I heard her yell - not from the river, but from the parking area, practically right next to me. I just had to skirt around one parked car to find her, standing right by the tiny (like 15cm high) wall that runs along the back of the parking area at the top of the river wall. She had not followed the road like a person with a brain would, she had just gone straight toward the people and noise, brought to halt at the wall, sheer instinct stopping her from trying to go across. She was at that point in time, calling out to Amy and Lena, who she could see across the river. They had seen her only seconds before, and got very frightened and started to yell and scream just as I left the house.

The whole event must have taken only a minute or two, it's amazing how fast they can move!


Jo Tomooka said...

Hope the heart has stopped racing now. We "lost" Emily at the airport once as I was trying to check in for our flight to NZ. Turns out she was just having a look around the souvenir shop! Those few minutes are definately not fun.....

Rachel said...

I was literally shaking for a good 5-10 minutes after! Interesting how different it felt from the concern I felt when the bonfire went up - underneath that, I was pretty sure that Amy and Lena were wise enough to keep their distance, and that Erica would be taken care of. So mild worry, but not the full fight-or-flight adrenaline-rush she gave me later. Glad I didn't just jump in, man that would have been embarrassing.

Glad also today that I've got such a boring blog, or I'd be worried Ms. Anonymous from gaijinwife would come and berate me for my negligence!

gaijin wife said...

Will do it on her behalf... bad bad mummy. Do you not raise your children to walk one step behind you at all times - in complete silence? How shocking. I bid you farewell and enjoy your sorry life.
Glad you found her and she was OK. Lost Shou in carpark two days ago to find he had just walked into toy shop. My god, just about went into premature labor was so frightened. Nice to know your river is more mud than water. Would have been bloody freezing just the same.

Slime said...

Yikes! That's so scarey! I lost my oldest when she was almost two. We were in a dept. store and I thought she was playing in the clothes rack, as she liked to do, but she wasn't there. After 20 min of complete panic and sheer terror, she was found ACROSS THE PARKING LOT in the grocery store we had just left! She had her heart set on some Cap'n Crunch cereal, but I had said 'No'! To make matters worse, we were in Germany, and I didn't speak German at the time!

I'm glad everything turned out okay!