Belief in SOMIN
The folk tale of SOMIN is recorded in BINGO FUDOKI (a lost writing of regional gazetteers from Bingo Province).
Takeaki-no-kami was a deity of Hokkai (the Northern provinces), and as he was traveling to visit Nankai (the Southern provinces) to look for a wife, the sun set during his journey. Two brothers named Somin Shorai and Kotan Shorai lived there. The elder brother Somin was very poor, while the younger brother Kotan was wealthy owning more than a hundred houses and warehouses. Takeaki-no-kami asked the rich younger brother for a place to sleep during the night, but he was refused. Takeaki-no-kami then asked the elder brother. Somin showed him as much hospitality as he could with a meal of AWA (foxtail millet). Later, while Takeaki-no-kami was on his journey returning to the Northern provinces with eight princes, he stopped by the house of the elder brother, Somin Shorai, and asked him, “I want to repay your kindness from before. Do you have any family in the house?” “My wife and daughter are here,” Somin replied. Then Takeaki-no-kami ordered them to put a CHINOWA (a ring made of kaya grass) around their waist. That night, Takeaki-no-kami destroyed everything except Somin, his wife and his daughter. He said “I am the deity called Susanoo-no-mikoto. If epidemics break out in the future, those who are descendants of Somin Shorai, and who also wear the CHINOWA around their waists, will be saved”.
(Takeaki-no-kami, Susanoo-no-mikoto, Gozu-tenno, and Yakushi Nyorai, are different names for the same deities and Buddhas.)
This festival is held from midnight of the 7th through the early morning of the 8th in the lunar New Year. The participants, most of them naked, wearing only a FUNDOSHI (loincloth), pray for prevention from disaster and a good harvest, in the midst of a severely cold, snowy winter night. The festival is composed of the following five events.
●HADAKA-MAIRI (Worshiping Naked) (from 10:00pm)
People who are at a critical age and others offering prayers carry KAKUTO (square hand lanterns) to cleanse their body in the RURITSUBO River (Yamauchi River). Shouting out “JASSO, JOYASA!” they make three trips between the MYOKEN-DO (a temple hall dedicated to Myoken Bosatsu) and the YAKUSHI-DO (main hall) to pray for protection against disaster and a good harvest.
●HITAKI-NOBORI (Climbing the Bonfire) (from 11:30pm)
After piling pine branches (length about 6 inches) in parallel crosses in front of the main hall, they set it on fire, and people climb on top. They expose their bodies to the sparks for purification or for protection against disasters. All members sing a song called YAMAUCHI-BUSHI (a traditional folk song) repeatedly and in high spirits. This is the ceremony of HITAKI-GOMA.
●BETTO-NOBORI (Climbing of the Chief Priest) (from 2:00am)
The chief priest, following those carrying the SOMIN-BUKURO (a bag made from help filled with hexagon shaped wooden talismans) climbs up to the main hall, and makes a sacred fire for protection against disaster and an abundant harvest.
●ONIGO-NOBORI (Climbing of the Demons) (from 4:00am)
Two seven years old boys (ONIGO), wearing clothes made of hemp and with demon masks upside-down on their backs, climb up to the main hall while being carried on the backs of two men
After the ONIGO enter into the main hall, the chief priest goes out to the GEJIN (outer place of worship for public people), then scatters about MANDARA-MAI. After a while, blazing torches are placed on the GOMA-DAI (altar) placed in the center of the GEJIN, and the ONIGO go around the fire three times.
●Scramble for the SOMIN-BUKURO (after the ONIGO-NOBORI ends)
The naked people with loincloths scramble for the “SOMIN-BUKURO,” a bag made from hemp, about 5-sho (9 liters) in volume, filled with KOMAGI (small wooden talismans with a hexagon shape) made from sumac cut to a length of 3 cm.
Soon after the beginning, the SOMING-BUKURO is cut with a small knife, and the small KOMAGI talismans (also known as SOMIN SHORAI GOFU, or talisman of SOMIN SHORAI) scatter about. It is said that those who grab a KOMAGI will be protected from disaster, so there is a great competition to try to get one.
But it is not over yet. The scramble for the empty bag continues for more than an hour, until a chief referee proclaims one the TORINUSHI (the last person who grasped the neck of the bag). With this, the festival is over.