Japan As They Saw It

“a brilliant pageant—nothing more”

    We witnessed a number of matsuris, or religious festivals in Japan, when all the principal streets were thronged with people, and even the house-tops held their private box-parties. On every such occasion there would appear, in the centre of the thoroughfare, an object that never failed to fill us with amazement. Think of a hundred men pulling madly on two ropes, and drawing thus a kind of car, mounted on two enormous wooden wheels. Resting on this, and rising far above the neighboring roofs, imagine a portable shrine, resembling a pagoda, with roof of gold, and gorgeously decorated with silken tapestries, which are so richly embroidered and heavily gilded as to be valued at many thousands of dollars. This structure had two stories, on each of which were many life-size figures,—some being actual men and women, while others were mere painted statues, hideous and grotesque. Behind this came another car, shaped like a huge bird with crested head. Upon this second vehicle also stood an edifice, three stories high, resplendent with magnificent tapestries and gilded ornaments, and bearing statues of old Japanese deities, so laughably grotesque, that had their surroundings been so rich the whole procession would have seemed a farce. Some of these statues, which were made to open their mouths and wag their heads like puppets, were especially applauded. Men, women, and children rode upon these cars, blowing horns and beating drums. If we had closed our eyes, we might have thought that we were listening to a Fourth of July parade of the “Antiques and Horribles.” What most impressed us was the absence of what we should consider religious feeling. It was a show, a brilliant pageant—nothing more; though, as such, it was heartily enjoyed by thousands.

A Religious Festival

John L. Stoddard, Japan, 1897

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