U.S. military personnel carry good luck to Yokosuka
Stars and Stripes October 18, 2005
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Where is the best place to stand in the Mikoshi Parade? About 15 feet from the altar — that way, you don’t have to help the massive thing on its bulky dance through town, kid the volunteers.
But neither the arduous task, nor Sunday’s rain kept anyone from Yokosuka’s 29th Annual Mikoshi Parade. More than 160 people from Yokosuka Naval Base volunteered to carry the massive 200-kilogram (about 440 pounds) “Gaijin” altar of wood and metal.
“Being short and small means you get a real arm workout,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Veronica Dinse.
Carrying mikoshi brings good luck and purifies the land, according to Japanese beliefs. It also brings neighborhoods together, and in Yokosuka, it combines cultures as the parade begins in town at the Yokosuka Chuo train station, runs through the Womble Gate and ends with a party on the base.
Seaman David Simmons helped carry an altar from Kurihama. He was one of the first Americans to have carried it, he said. It was his first time participating in the ritual, which originated in A.D. 749, as a way to transport a deity to a shrine.
“It hurts,” Simmons said. “But it’s cool to be an American relating to the Japanese in this way.”
The key to moving the altar is “synchronization,” said Yokosuka Morale, Welfare and Recreation worker Takeshi Koshio. About 40 people carry the altar at a time. They chant “Washoi! Washoi!” to stay in step, he said. After they got used to the movements, the Americans got creative and were able to jog the altar in a circle.
“The Americans are good students,” Koshio said. “We had a great turnout.”
More than 70 altars participated in the event. Some groups beat drums to keep time. Intrepid children balanced on the beams as they swayed beneath them. And yes, at least one altar was dropped in the excitement of it all.