A mikoshi is a divine palanquin which can be seen carried through the streets of Japan during certain festivals. In the past, the purpose of parading the Shinto gods along the streets was meant as a cleansing or purifying act. Such practice existed during the desperate times of plague and disaster.
The mikoshi may not seem very huge but are very heavy, so a team of people is required to carry it on their shoulders. The less heavy mikoshi that requires a smaller team to carry it may require only 2 poles, but the heavier mikoshi could use up to 6 poles. Given the fact that men are naturally the physically stronger gender, the mikoshi bearers (katsugite) are mainly comprised of men. However, there are some mikoshis which are specifically designed for women or children.
Due to the mikoshi’s weight which can reach thousands of kilograms, the shoulders of the bearers would be painful, so some of the bearers may opt to use some towels or shoulder pads to reduce the pain during the parade. The heaviest mikoshi in Tokyo is called the Senkan Mikoshi, which is carried during the Torikoe Festival organized by the Torikoe Shrine. The Senkan Mikoshi weighs about 4,000 kilograms!
You may think that the pain is just temporary and after that, everything would be okay. However, there are actually lasting effects from carrying the mikoshi often. If you had the chance to witness a mikoshi parade in Japan, you might have noticed that some of the bearers developed some bulges on their shoulders. The bulges are called mikoshi dako (calluses) and they are known to be the mark of a true katsugite.
Those bulges may not look attractive to others, but the katsugite carry them with pride. There are even mikoshi bearers who deliberately choose not to use any form of padding on the shoulder so that they would develop the bulge easily! If given the chance, would you try carrying a mikoshi on your own shoulders?