Tonight I experienced probably my favorite festival so far, mostly because it was a small festival just for my cho (neighborhood). It was an intimate celebration at the nearby Hachiman shrine and it felt really special to take part in it. Kids were playing taiko drums skillfully and everyone was in good spirits. My landlord and landlady were there, as well as a handful of neighbors that I had been passing by every day on my way to the station. I tried my best to talk with everyone- they were all so friendly and seemed happy to meet me! I also introduced them to my husband whom they promptly nicknamed JJ (Josh J.). I paid respects at the shrine and I was gifted with a HUGE bag of fruits and other treats. That wasn’t the only thing I was given. Several people were handing us homemade mitarashi dango (sweet and savory rice dumplings) and warm, soft sweet potatoes. My favorite moment was what I took to be a holy ceremony of sorts. One of the shrine maidens (miko) boiled a pot of water over fire and seemed to burn something like white sage over it, letting the ashes fall in. Everyone gathered around and bowed, and then the miko served the hot water to the festival guests. It tasted slightly herbal and bitter, but mostly had no flavor. The only I could gather is that we were drinking something like a holy water. Perhaps someone could fill me in more on the background of this custom since I wasn’t able to find much in my research. It was really interesting to take part in this aspect of Japanese culture! It was a wonderful feeling to be so connected with my new community.