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The Rousing Drum

The Rousing Drum: Ritual Practice in a Japanese Community

Scott Schnell
Copyright Date: 1999
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  • Book Info
    The Rousing Drum
    Book Description:

    Ritual is too often equated with unvarying or repetitive behavior. This impression is encouraged by the ethnographic tendency toward an overly narrow time frame, which highlights current relationships and conditions rather than long-term developments. The Rousing Drum takes a different view. It adopts a historical perspective encompassing several hundred years in exploring the role of ritual as an effective medium for negotiating sociopolitical and economic change. The setting is Furukawa, a town located in Japan's mountainous interior. Every spring the local Shinto shrine festival provides an opportunity for enacting social relationships and attitudes. By day, a portable shrine containing the spirit of the guardian deity is escorted through town in a stately procession. At night, however, a different scenario unfolds. A barrel-shaped drum is borne through the nighttime streets on a massive grid-like platform. Prominent members of the community are obliged to ride upon the platform, while teams of young adults rush out and attack it as it passes through their respective neighborhoods. The action can become quite unruly, and random fights and injuries are accepted as inevitable correlates. In analyzing the festival over time, Schnell reveals a dramatic transformation. The drum ritual, which originated as a minor preliminary to the other events, emerged during the late 1800s as an occasion for airing hostilities and settling scores. As Japan's modernization progressed, the ritual performance came to embody a symbolic challenge to institutionalized authority, and occasionally escalated into politically motivated violence. While the religious ceremonies observed during the day were appropriated by local power holders, the nighttime drum ritual represented a folk response to the officially sanctioned liturgy. The festival as a whole thus represented the clash of competing ideologies within the context of a single public forum. Today's ritual, rather tame by comparison, is being transformed into a tourist attraction aligned with the town's economic development objectives. Schnell's careful examination of the ethnohistorical data offers a valuable new perspective on Japanese festivals as well as the events and conditions that influence their development. His innovative look at ritual behavior over time persuades us that we can grasp the underlying significance of such activities only if we consider them within the context of larger historical patterns.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6499-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-12)

    Deep within the mountainous interior of central Honshu, the main island in the Japanese archipelago, lies a small agricultural and commercial town called Furukawa. It is located in the center of a narrow basin, surrounded by rice paddies, and further enveloped by steep mountain slopes. The core community, which has for centuries been defined by its territorial affiliation with a local guardian deity, presently numbers about 7000 people.

    This is not the idyllic farm village so frequently chosen as the focus of past anthropological studies (see for example Embree 1939; Beardsley, Hall, and Ward 1959; Dore 1978); nor is it...

    (pp. 13-32)

    Adherents of a practice-oriented approach insist that by serving as the agents of structural reproduction, individual actors can introduce changes in the social structure itself. The manner in which this is achieved, however, is far less explicitly described. I suggest that one way of introducing change is through the medium of communal ritual, and that such events mark crucial opportunities for sociopolitical maneuvering.

    Ritual has been of major importance in the analysis of social patterns, largely because of its propensity for encapsulating central norms and values. Rappaport (1979:174) refers to ritual as “thebasic social act,” and Wilson (1954:240) sees...

    (pp. 33-70)

    Gifu Prefecture in central Japan is shaped a bit like a threeleaf clover, with one lobe extending north and the other two east and west. The northern lobe comprises a predominantly forested mountain region known since antiquity as “Hida.” This region is spatially defined by the three counties of Mashita-gun,Ōno-gun,and Yoshiki-gun,¹ as well as the city of Takayama which lies in their midst. The name “Hida” itself, however, refers to a province that no longer officially exists. It ceased to function as a distinct political unit shortly after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, when new prefectural boundaries were...

    (pp. 71-113)

    The Furukawamatsuriis performed every April 19–21. It is scheduled to coincide with the emerging cherry blossoms and the long-awaited arrival of warmer weather. It is also seen as a prelude to the spring planting season, as local farmers begin tilling their rice paddies shortly thereafter. Springmatsuriin general derive from the tradition of petitioning the deities for a successful harvest. Such a petition had to be presented every year, and was considered an important rite of renewal.

    Thematsuricontinues to be regarded as the most significant event of the year in the lives of the...

    (pp. 114-145)

    Preparations for thematsuriofficially begin on the first Sunday in March, when thetaigumileaders gather at the shrine to participate in the so-called “lottery ceremony”(chūsen sai). The purpose of the ceremony is to select a director for both the rousing drum andyataiprocession, as well as determine the order theyataiwill follow. As the name “lottery ceremony” implies, the matter is decided by drawing lots. Since the ritual is conducted at the shrine under the auspices of the head priest, it may actually be considered a form of divination, as the outcome is being left...

    (pp. 146-179)

    Historical ethnography is seriously complicated by a lack of ample source materials, or doubts concerning their accuracy. As in archaeology, fragments can be pieced together using the available evidence, but a certain amount of informed conjecture is required to fill in the gaps. The fieldwork upon which this analysis is based was initiated in 1990. The memories of my most senior informants thus extend back only to around the mid-Taishō period (1912–1926). In attempting to reconstruct thematsuriprior to this time, I was obliged to resort to whatever written documents were available. These, however, had to be used...

    (pp. 180-224)

    Up to this point little has been said about the nature and conduct of theokoshi daiko. This reflects its relative lack of importance within the performative structure of thematsurias a whole. The 1870 account (cited in the preceding chapter) describes the drum as a minor preliminary, having little or no bearing on the course of subsequent events. Likewise, a passage from the 1782 travelogue entitledHida Miyageby haiku poet Rinkō (also alluded to in the preceding chapter) describes the procession of nineyataiduring the main event on the Sixth Day of the Eighth Month, but...

    (pp. 225-259)

    Social unrest continued in Japan through the early decades of the twentieth century. Rapid economic expansion triggered by the First World War engendered a class of urbannouveaux riches. Their indiscriminate buying led to rapid inflation, making even the most basic commodities too expensive for the less affluent to obtain. Rice riots broke out all over the country, but were particularly intense in the area around Toki City in the extreme south-central portion of Gifu Prefecture. On the night of August 13, 1918, a mob of over two hundred angry peasants attacked the homes of prosperoussakebrewers, rice merchants,...

    (pp. 260-289)

    The prevailing mood immediately following the war was one of disillusionment and shame—hardly conducive to the kind of festive atmosphere thematsurioccasioned. In any case, the event could no longer be properly celebrated due to serious shortages of food and other supplies—not the least of themsake. Nevertheless, in 1947 some of the young men who had returned from military service overseas led a movement to resurrect theokoshi daiko. The Tonomachi contingent voluntarily assumed the role of bearing the drum. Initially they were unable to gain the consent of either the parish elders or the town’s...

    (pp. 290-308)

    It is apparent from the preceding chapters that the Furukawamatsurihas undergone many significant changes throughout the course of its development. Thematsurihas been used at various times by its participants to commune with the supernatural, establish or strengthen interpersonal relations, generate and preserve a sense of collective identity, garner prestige, further political ambitions, assert or reaffirm the authority of the local elite and/or the state, challenge that authority, seek retribution for perceived injustices, relieve tensions through cathartic expenditure of energy, settle old scores, and stimulate economic development. Thematsuriremains a vital part of the community because...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 309-334)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-350)
  16. Index
    (pp. 351-363)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 364-364)