I am always looking out for things that I think the Ohara community would appreciate and need as they rebuild their community, but sometimes, given that they pretty much need everything, it’s actually more difficult than you’d think. Despite having lost their homes, businesses, and so many things of cultural and historical significance, the people here seem to meet each day with a smile — they have each other, and that sense of community, friendship, and love is what I am sure has got them through the past 16 months.
Tokyo Photowalkers had sent me some money that I was trying to find a good use for. I was keeping an eye out for something of visual beauty, something aesthetically pleasing and needed in a way that was encouraging to the town as a whole rather than an individual. I was looking for the kind of thing that a group of photographers would probably appreciate.
Having spoken to Kucho-san about this, he finally thought of something that sounds quite small and unimportant, but as with so many little “projects” I find, means a lot to the people here.
The mikoshi that I helped carry around the town on Sunday, has been a major source of excitement in Ohara, and news of its grandeur has spread throughout the peninsula. It was a gift from a hotel in Sendai, whose chairperson actually came to the festival on Sunday and walked around the town in front of the shrine. He spoke English to me as he walked, saying that he had visited the UK many times to play golf. His English was excellent and his nature very friendly and kind — I warmed to him immediately and wasn’t surprised that he seemed to be such a lovely man to have organised this generous gift.
The mikoshi was made in the sixties, and cost 8 million yen at that time. It was used during the Koyo Grand Hotel’s weddings, and I had hoped to have a “moment” with it when my lovely Mr W was to arrive, but sadly he’s too poorly to travel and it will have to wait until next year (maybe we can celebrate our first wedding anniversary with it!).
It is a breathtakingly beautiful piece of art and it was an honour to carry it around the town. It rests on a stage in the community centre where I sleep, so I often find myself alternately gazing at the intricate details up close and standing back in awe to admire it from a distance. It has given the people of Ohara a huge boost as they slowly rebuild their town, a process of which the town’s rituals, like omikoshi, are a huge part.
Despite the rowdiness and all the heaving up and down of the mikoshi over and over again during the festival, it is treated with great pride and respect. I spotted the town “lads” carefully wiping down the wooden parts during the little breaks between carrying the portable shrine. Young and old alike stood admiring the details everywhere we took it on the weekend. So leaving such a beautiful items of such cultural significance sitting in the centre without any protection is something that Kucho-san and the other senior members of the town had already started to be concerned about. This is where I felt that the Tokyo Photowalkers’ donation would be best of use — to purchase a special cover to protect the mikoshi from gathering dust. Like I said, it sounds like such a small thing, but I have a sense that people like these photographers would appreciate the need to protect something so beautiful.
A very big thanks goes to Andrew Holian, Robert Eckelmann, Joanne Yu, Ali Malay, Jeff Austin, Hidehiko Sakashita, Agustin Rafael Reyes, Jason Arney, Yuki Murata, and the other photowalkers, for helping the town of Ohara. I took just a few photos as I thought you might appreciate the tiny details of the mikoshi and like to see what your money is protecting. It isn’t just about the mikoshi though, but about the great sense of pride and joy that the whole town now has again. Thank you for being a part of that.