an English translation of the novel

Page 51-53

When talking about childhood, I also have to mention the annual celebrations and rituals we had. Passed on from one generation to the next, these seasonal events created a sort of rhythm in our lives.

Just off the top of my head, in the spring we have a ritual for driving away evil spirits, a festival to pray for a successful harvest, and a festival for keeping away infectious diseases. In the summer, there’s a summer festival (monster festival), fire festival, and a feast of lanterns. In the fall there’s a festival on the first of august, and a ceremony of offering newly harvested rice to the gods. And the events that remind me of winter are the snow festival, the new year festival and {another festival at the end of the new year festival}.

But the one that is carved deepest in my mind is the ritual used for driving away evil spirits.

It supposedly can also be called the Demon Chasing festival1 but whether that’s true or not is uncertain. It’s one of our oldest festivals, with over two thousand years of history.

On the morning of the festival, we children gathered in an open square. We wore “purity masks” made with damp clay and covered with powdered chalk and played the part of [“shinshi”] in the ritual.

Ever since I was a child, I was scared of this ceremony because two of the masks used were exceptionally horrifying.

The two were masks representing fiends and karma demons. The fiend’s face had a sinister grin plastered on it. Afterwards, when the ban on information about ceremonies was lifted, I tried to find out its history, but the information was unclear. What I found was that it closely resembles the snake mask from ancient Noh plays. It’s the final of the three stages of a human becoming a demon that goes from bestialization –> hannya2 –> snake.

On the other hand, the karma demon’s face is one of fear and anguish, though its features are muddled and crooked and sometimes don’t even look human.

The ritual that makes up the core of the festival goes something like this. White sand is spread out over the square with lit braziers on the eastern and western end, while twenty or thirty shinshi march around the flames chanting “demons, begone. demons, begone” in a peculiar rhythm.

Then the exorcist appears dressed in a traditional costume and carrying a big spear in his hands. But the first thing everyone always notices is his golden, four-eyed mask.

The exorcist joins the shinshi in chanting and circling the fires and scatters beans in all directions to ward off calamities and bad luck. He also threw them at the spectators and people would cup their hands to catch them.

From here, the horrifying part starts. The exorcist turns toward the shinshi without warning and throws the rest of his beans at them.

“Impurity is within us!” he shouts and the shinshi repeat after him. At this signal, two of the shinshi tear off their purity masks, revealing themselves to be a fiend and a karma demon.

As a shinshi, this scene was scary enough to take my breath away. Once, the shinshi right next to me suddenly transformed into a fiend and the rest of the shinshi scattered like roaches in terror, convinced that they were seeing the actual demons.

“Expel impurity!” the exorcist shouts as he drives away the two demons with the spear. The demons put on a show of resisting, but when everyone joins in shouting, they run off, and the ritual is over.

I still remember the sight of Satoru’s face when he took off the mask, shivering.

“You’re pale as a ghost,” I said, and Satoru’s colorless lips trembled.

“So what? You are too.”

What we saw in each other’s eyes was our own hidden fears.

Satoru’s eyes opened wide and jerked his chin toward something behind my back. I turned around and saw the exorcist coming back to the square, unfastening his mask.

I just made up this name; “yarai” in the original name has multiple meanings and I wasn’t exactly sure which it should be.
2 Hannya

 
     

Leave a Reply