Mysterious “Badges of Honour” From a Japanese Festival

Rather than hiding the calluses, the bulges on these men are glorified for a very special reason.

If you’ve been to a traditional festival in Japan, you’ll know what it’s like to be in amongst a crowd of heaving bodies, enveloped in the aroma of grilled foods and surrounded by the noise and clamour of an exciting parade. At the heart of the festivities is the mikoshi, the portable Shinto shrine that houses the deity, which makes its way around town on specific dates each year. Supported by long wooden poles, the mikoshi is carried around the neighbourhood by groups of men and women, who shout out various permutations of “heave-ho!” in Japanese as they gallantly hold up the heavily decorated miniature shrine for all the crowds to see.

▼ At some festivals, two mikoshi “fight”, by jostling back and forth in front
of each other, as they do here at the Nada-no-Kenka Matsuri at Himeji.

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Participating in the festival as a mikoshi load-bearer is something locals might do once in their lifetimes, or they might do it every year for decades. It’s an arduous task, given that the portable shrines can weigh upwards of 1,100 kilograms (1.2 tons), and the result of this hard work can sometimes be seen underneath the happi festival coats of the carriers.

▼ This is what results from bearing the weight of a Japanese festival.

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There’s no mistaking what causes these shoulder calluses, given that they’re known in Japanese as “Mikoshi Dako“, or “Mikoshi Calluses“. Just as players of stringed instruments develop lumps of hard skin on their fingers from years of practice, these mikoshi carriers develop bulges on their shoulders, which actually help to reduce the pain of carrying the portable shrine due to the build-up of hardened skin.

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Rather than hide the large lumps on their shoulders, however, the men who have them wear them as a badge of pride; as a symbol of their unwavering dedication to the deity, the shrine and the larger community itself.

▼ If anyone deserves a dip in the river, it’s this guy,
who looks like he’s hiding baseballs underneath his skin.

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It appears that giant shoulder calluses are not confined to the men of Japan, however, as similar bulges can be seen on the “cullatori” (“cradle rockers”) of Nola, Italy, who carry giant obelisks weighing more than 2,500 kilograms during the annual “La Festa dei Gigli”, or “The Festival of Lilies”. Like the Japanese, these men wear their calluses with pride; as a sign of religious dedication.

Source: Kinisoku