Shishimai: The Lion Dance

shishimaiShishimai (獅子舞) is a lion dance for good luck. In our area, there are a few guys who go around in the spring and do shishimai. There is usually one guy who is the lion, one who plays a flute and one who plays a drum. The lion is supposed to bite you on the head for good luck. It is also a way for the shrine to earn some money, since once they do the lion dance for you, you are expected to give them a donation.

Regarding the “donation”, I always feel awkward and never know how much to give. I have not gotten a straight answer out of my husband or mother-in-law about an amount. One time, they said something about how they were “fake” and I didn’t need to give them money. Hmmm… I think one time I gave them 1,000 yen and another time just 500 yen. Another time, my husband asked if I had given them money and I said yes and asked how much I should have given them, but no real answer…

Anyway, here is how things normally go on a day when they are going around our neighborhood doing shishimai:

I can hear the sound of the drums and the flute moving through the neighborhood, so I know that they will stop by our house sometime in the morning. I think it’s a kind of fun tradition and look forward to it.

They arrive at our house. Tsubaki runs off and hides in a corner somewhere because she is terrified of the lion and does not want to have anything to with it biting her head! (This also means she will be hiding sometime later in the morning at daycare, because they also visit there.) They have never directly asked me for money. They just ask if they can come into our entryway and do their thing. I usually invite them in and go off in search of my wallet, knowing that a donation is expected. Gaku and Hana think it is fun and let the lion bite their head. The lion goes away, Tsubaki comes out of hiding, and we go off to daycare! I can hear the sound of their flute and drum moving around the neighborhood for the rest of the morning. I have to say that I rather like the sounds.

So, one day last week at around 10:00 in the morning, I was sitting in my English Room and working, when I heard someone open the door and call out “excuse me”. I yelled an answer, something like “just a moment”. Before I could get up and get to the entryway, the visitor had called out a few more times. Because of the repeated calling after I had yelled an answer, I expected it was one of the elderly gentlemen in our neighborhood. It was just one guy with a shishimai lion…

This guy already had a couple of strikes against him, and I wasn’t feeling overly charitable, even before he opened his mouth.

  1. I was irritated at having my concentration interrupted.
  2. I was still in my pajamas (something Tak gives me crap about all the time), and so feeling at a bit of a disadvantage.

But as soon as he saw me, he sealed his own fate.

  1. He did the “oh-shit-it’s-a-foreigner-deers-in-headlight” thing. This reaction to me in my own home bothers me. Okay… didn’t he notice the sign in front of the house that says “Sam’s English School / サムの英会話”? Isn’t that a give away that he might see a foreigner in this house? And even so, most of the foreigners I know in Izumo, can speak at least some Japanese…
  2. I spoke to him in Japanese. He continued with his panicky reaction. He was kind of mumbling in Japanese and throwing in a couple of English words. I think one of the things he said was “Japanese tradition”. His assumption that I am completely ignorant of Japanese customs and cannot understand Japanese just irritated me, especially since I had said something to him in Japanese.
  3. But the icing on the cake was the other English word that he kept repeatedly using in his panic – “money”. Oh my. I was feeling a bit insulted at this point. He was not offering to do the dance and hoping/expecting that I would make a donation. He was outright asking me to pay him, and not even really offering to do the dance at all. I’m sure (pretty sure, anyway) that he would have gone ahead and done his dance if I had paid him…

But I was irritated by the whole thing on that day. I was in the middle of something and his reaction had further ticked me off. And the words of my husband and mother-in-law about “fakes” kept echoing in my head. I also wasn’t sure that I had appropriate currency in my wallet and didn’t feel like checking. I told him maybe next time… He said it would be another year. Oh well.

For more information about shishimai with photos, here are a couple of links:

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