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Matsuri


Kobe is known throughout Japan for being an international city, translation, people here don’t freak out when they see a white person.

Actually that’s a bit unfair on Kobe. The city has excellent facilities for promoting internationalization. From the perspective of foreigners it provides facilities such as free Japanese lessons, the translation of all important civic information into English, Spanish, Chinese and Korean, free counseling facilities for culture shock, a variety of religious centres, etc, etc. On the reverse side Kobe has a vast amount of foreign restaurants for a Japanese city and one of the best examples of the JET programme. It also has a decently sized and prominent China Town. A place I never actually go to, and seeing as it was Chinese New Year last weekend I thought I would head down and check out the festivities.

By the way, I must apologise for these photos. I left my memory card at home and so had to take these photos on my cameraphone. Sorry.

China Town in Motomachi, Kobe is pretty much like any other China Town anywhere else. Which I guess makes sense since, theoretically at least, they’re all meant to be a recreation of China. For New Years somebody had hung Chinese lanterns across the street and dozens of flags in bright red and gold. Two colours which dominated the view everywhere one looked. It was all very bright and festive and, unfortunately, rammed full of people wandering aimlessly through too thin streets.

Chinese and Japanese culture nowadays are very different but originally almost everything Japan considers to be high culture was taken from China. Even now the two cultures share a lot of touchstones. Chinese New Year is generally dissimilar to the Japanese shogatsu but there are a few similarities. A focus on families eating meals together and the eating of foods with auspicious names.

But, not being Chinese, I wasn’t partaking of the family meal but rather te distinctly un-shogatsu-like public party that precedes it. However, whilst this part is not much like anything that happens around shogatsu it is pretty much exactly like a standard Japanese matsuri. And that means eating and then watching someone perform something.

The eating part was more than covered. Sannomiya is dense with restaurants but it has nothing on China Town. It is hard to comprehend more places to eat possibly being crammed in there. It seemed like no matter where you looked the eye was greeted by some kind of tasty Chinese dish. In fact bugger seemed, this was literally true. Without looking straight up into the sky it was impossible not to be lookign at some kind of food.

And the smell! The clashing smells of sweets, meats, breads, sauces and people was intoxicating. It was like walking though some kind of sweetly fragranced river drowning in food smells.

Needless to say we ate a lot of food. All you can eat dim sum (yum), nikumanju (pork buns) and a black nikumanju flavoured with squid ink, prawn balls, roast duck, etc, etc.

The black nikuman was particularly good. The filling was the best I have ever had in a pork bun, not too salty, really fresh with really fresh cabbage and even some little prawns enlivening the mixture. I bought it from a stall that a friend of mine works at and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting Kobe China Town.

Fran had an unusual concoction called a “moffle”. A mochi-waffle. Mochi is a kind of Japanese rice cake and in the “moffle” a filling was placed between two sheets of rice cake and then cooked in a waffle iron. It was ooey, goeey, sticky, sweet, crunchy and basically everything a dessert should be.

In-between stuffing ourselves Fran and I took in the stage displays in open jawed amazement.

First up was a lion dance done by students from the Hyogo Commercial High School. A friend of mine works there and had always raved about how amazing her kids were. She was right. The drummer was ferocious, really primal, almost frightening even. The dance was well co-ordinated and with exceptional acrobatics from such young kids. I’m not usually one for dances (I tire of them quickly and start thinking about other things, like where the music is coming from, what I’m having for tea or who actually does enjoy watching dances) but I was spellbound by this one.

They followed it up with a dragon dance. Basically a paper dragon on poles was manipulated by the dancers in time to music on taiko, gong, tambourine and other percussion instruments. This too was spellbinding and some of the tricks the kids managed to pull off with the dragon puppet were brilliant. The dragon flowed and danced and came alive for a short moment.

The students finished up and were treated to a pair of drummers doing comedy skits and playing elaborate and complex rhythms. Their drumming was impressive but it lacked the primal power of the taiko. It was kind of fiddly. Still it was incredible to listen to and played excellently.

The performances started to veer into the repetitive shortly after this, with another lion dance (nowhere near as impressive as the first but admittedly with better acrobatics) and then a repeat performance from the drummers. About this time the cold and boredom began to settle in and Fran and I made our own fun by wandering around and laughing at the hilarious things we found in souvenir shops.

We came back to watch the lion bless our friend’s stall. This consisted of yet another dance and by now my enthusiasm for watching two men in a costume jump up and down had long since deserted me and every second I had to spend with the sodding lion was beginning to get on my nerves, just a touch. Still, the look on my friend’s face when the lion seemed to attack him was priceless and well worth waiting for.

All in all Chinese New Year was alright for a cheap Sunday out but nothing particularly special.

Now that nikuman though, that was special.

The day before the shika no tsunokiri Fran and I had already been to another festival.

I know; aren’t we just so amazingly open to new cultural experiences.

*cough*

This festival was a harvest celebration to thank the gods for good crops held in the local shrine for the town my school is in, Iwaoka. I wasn’t expecting much from this matsuri, after all Iwaoka is very rural and miles from anywhere and hardly famous for its matsuri. However I was curious what these small local events were like and I was quite excited to see my students and teachers in a more social setting.

I was absolutely blown away.

I was supposed to arrive at 10 o’clock but sadly the really horrible bus service between Seishin-chuo and Iwaoka meant that Fran and I arrived closer to 11. Well, getting slightly lost didn’t help either but we followed the sound of drums into the shrine and saw.

Well, this.

The festivities where already in full swing by the time we arrived and the shrine was full of shouting, laughing drunken people. At 11 o’clock in the morning mind.

The first thing we saw were the Mikoshi. Enormous, elaborate floats being carried by scores of male volunteers. Each float was absolutely gorgeous. The patterns were done entirely in embroidery and some of the embroidery was astoundingly gorgeous, if a little bit odd. We spotted more than a few sacred lobsters.

Inside each Mikoshi is a kami, a god in the Shinto faith that resides in some natural form. The Mikoshi are basically tombs for gods, typically former men of great virtue who have been enshrined within the Mikoshi and become kami in death.

The purpose of the matsuri is to wake the kami up; taken them for a walk and let them join in the celebration. All this is supposed to make them happy and demonstrates gratitude for this year’s harvest. To this end the carriers of the Mikoshi shake it violently once they reach the shrine, cry out with loud chanting, drop the Mikoshi on the ground and spin it furiously and generally mess about with it in a bawdy and joyous fashion. This apparently pleases the kami. I don’t know why. If I was an ancient and powerful god the last thing I’d want to happen to me is for a bunch of drunks to rouse me from my slumber by singing, banging drums and shaking me all over the shop. A nice strong cup of tea and the radio tuned to a volume that allows me to hear it if I need to but ignore it if I decide to sleep some more is how I like to wake up. Still they’ve been at it for centuries and the crops keep growing so it must work right?

In addition to a kami each Mikoshi also contains a small selection of young children banging away on taiko drums. The children must be as young as 8 or 9 and I’ll give them this, they are really terrific at drumming. They change rhythms several times but never once miss a beat and they get a really loud and furious sound out of the taiko. For quite a while Fran and I weren’t sure where the taiko noise was coming from. We thought that initially that there was a stall with a taiko drummer on it that we couldn’t see. Then we figured out that the sound was coming from the Mikoshi itself. We wondered if maybe there was a speaker in each Mikoshi but we finally got a glimpse of what was inside.

The kids did more than just drum too. They also joined in the chanting, which was adorable. One line would be roared out in a deep booming masculine voice and then the next line would be yelled in a sweet little kid voice. It was one of the cutest things you’ll ever hear.

You can just make out a little bit of it in the video I posted yesterday.

Dancing around the floats were several guys dressed up as tengu, with full face masks, odd stripy clothes and bits of foliage strapped to their backs. Tengu are a kind of Japanese demon. However demon has a slightly different meaning in Japanese myth. Rather than being evil demons and ghosts (or more properly yokai) are more amoral. They belong to the world of kami, but they are not strictly speaking kami themselves. Tengu are known for being ferocious fighters with a host of incredible powers, super strength, size changing, shape shifting, etc. They’re also famed for their enormous noses and phenomenal martial prowess. A lot of the most famous Japanese swordsmen are said to have been taught how to use a sword by tengu.

In this case the tengu (according to my kocho-sensei) were of a specific variety known as hanna. Apparently they serve as a kind of guide for the Mikoshi, showing the kami where to go and leading them. They also defend the shrine against evil.

After the first round of Mikoshi based festivities the tengu mounted a small stage and began to perform dances.

There were what seemed to be three troupes. The first consisting of a tengu, lion-dog and somebody in a woman’s Noh mask wielding some kind of glaive. The second had just a tengu and lion-dog and the third had a tengu, a lion-dog and an even stranger man in a Noh mask.

The first troupe had undoubtedly the best dancers and musicians. The second however had a much better lion-dog with the two people inside doing various tricks and flips. The third, meh.

The dance was telling a kind of story. The lion dog represented evil forces seeking to get into the shrine and the tengu as the defender of the shrine beat him back and killed him. The other characters apparently have no significance and were just included to make it all more visually appealing.

Each troupe performed a couple of times and during their last performance the tengu started throwing treats out into the audience. At first they were throwing apples, pears and persimmons but later they started hurling sweets. At which point the kids started going crazy, including the big kid I had brought along with me.

We got a sweet by the way. It was pink. Fran was happy.

Once the dancing had finished we headed off to enjoy the true appeal of festivals. EATING!

The usual culprits were all present, yakisoba (a noodle dish), takoyaki, yakitori (chicken on a stick) and kakigori. The flavoured shaved ice that is the defining feature of Japanese summer. That Fran ate….IN OCTOBER!

Hopeless that girl I tells ya.

I myself enjoyed my all time favourite festival food, taiyaki. The crispy, soft, pastry, hot and sweet sticky treat in the shape of a fish that I likes to eat.

Dunno what happened there. I went all poetic for a second.

I saw lots of my students out and about and had some short conversations with them but more crucially I met my kocho-sensei (principle).

He was incredibly drunk. Really, really far gone. Although, in fairness, he kind of had to as part of his job. As a community leader it was his responsibility to help entertain other community leaders and in Japan “entertaining” means drinking heroic quantities of sake.

When my kocho-sensei is drunk he turns into an incredibly friendly man but completely forgets how to speak English. So what he mostly does is continually compliment people. So it was a great conversation where I was asking what the significance of what was happening was and he kept saying “he is a great guy, your girlfriend is a beautiful lady” over and over again.

Eventually the people carrying the Mikoshi all got up again and we had another round of dancing, shaking, spinning, chanting, etc only this time much the worse for a few glasses of sake. In fact one of the teams in purple happi coats threatened to destroy a food stall at several times and more than once or twice Fran and I had to dodge out of the way of a runaway float.

Before long we got tired of fearing for our lives and it became clear to use that all that was going to happen for the foreseeable future was lots more shaking so we quietly made an exit,

I haven’t really praised the festival much in my description but honestly I think it is one of the best I have ever been to in Japan, including much bigger and more famous ones such as the Tenjin no matsuri, the shika no tsunokiri and the Gion matsuri. For a small local festival it really is spectacular and it’s full of good feeling and a positive friendly vibe.

Getting to see into these small private parts of Japan, the parties and moments when the Japanese let their guard down and let it all hang out is what makes staying here worthwhile. I get to see and experience things that are simply not available to tourists and often these are the most exciting and most interesting things to see in Japan.

Sorry guys. I had a post already to go tonight but sadly I have left it at work.

Doh!

I’ll have it up tomorrow night. Until then here is a taster of what I’ll be talking about.

Thoughts? Theories?

For some reason great things in Japan come in threes.

For example, any guidebook on Japan will tell you about the three most famous views in all of Japan. The floating torii in Miyajima, the Amanohashidate sand spit in Kyoto and the Matsushima valley in Miyagi.

Similarly there’s also a set of three most famous night views, three best onsen, three best gardens, three best castles etc, etc.

The set relevant to today is the three greatest festivals/matsuri in Japan. Number 1 is the Gion festival in Kyoto, number 2 is the Kanda and Sannoo Matsuri in Tokyo and number 3 is the Tenjin matsuri in Osaka.

I sadly had to be at work for the Gion festival this year* and Tokyo is a long trek to look at floats but I was not going to miss the one in Osaka. Thus last Friday I set off to Osaka along with my girlfriend Fran and three of her friends.

* However my girlfriend did attend Gion matsuri and she is hopefully going to do a guest post telling you all about it.

Unfortunately I only knew three things about this festival.

1. There is a float incorporating a shrine to a god.
2. At some stage it is put on a boat and traverses the river.
3. There are fireworks.

And I’ll own up to the following right away, I missed nearly every event that was happening during the festival. Apparently at a shrine in Osaka the god is paraded around up and down the street on an enormous float. There are more floats, dancing, chanting, music, etc, etc. My friends and I saw almost none of this because we were wandering about near the river where we assumed everything was happening.

In fairness considering the only things we knew were happening involved boats this wasn’t entirely wrong of us, and the riverbanks were lined with tents.

Yup, tents selling food. This is the defining feature of Japanese festivals. I may have explained the principle of Japanese festivals to you all before but allow me to reiterate.

What one does at a Japanese festival.

Firstly one dresses up in Yukata. Particularly if one is a lady.
Secondly, one goes to a tent and buys enormous quantities of festival food, a kind of food that is quite unlike most other Japanese food.
Thirdly, one sits down and watches whatever spectacle the festival is in aid of.

Lacking a yukata yet (although you just wait) I skipped straight to stage two and wandered about looking at all the bizarre food. 

Highlights included;

These enormous takoyaki, the size of my fist. Takoyaki are octopus dumplings and usually they only contain part of one octopus tentacle. These takoyaki contained a whole octopus each. They were absolutely enormous.

Delicious pineapple slices on a stick and even more bizarrely watermelon on a stick. There really is nothing that the Japanese won’t put on a stick.

These awesome looking barbequed fish. Not pictured, the barbequed sea snails that seem daring for even the bravest culinary adventurer.

Some strange snack thing consisting of a giant prawn rice cracker coated with takoyaki sauce, sprinkled with something crispy I couldn’t identify and topped with a fried egg shaped like a heart. Nice but an odd combination of elements.

We also made a brief alteration to stage 2 to pause and play some of the traditional festival games.

This game involves using a paper scoop to try and capture goldfish before the paper disintegrates. You can then pay extra to keep the fish. I didn’t try it as scaring fish for amusement is not really my cup of tea but Fran had a go and captured an impressive 18 fish! Considering I’ve watched people fail to capture one that is a sterling performance.

There was also a variant of this involving some turtles which turned all the girls I was with very kawaii. Fran had a long and very intense argument with herself as to whether or not to get a turtle.

Finally, refreshed and having completed stage 2 we moved onto stage 3, in this case watching things happen in the river.

Japan wins at fireworks by the way guys. The rest of the world can just give up now because Japan has won. The firework displays in this country are immense stunning things. The entire sky is constantly illuminated from one end to the other. I lack the words really to convey quite how superior the fireworks here are to those in Britain. There simply isn’t a shared frame of reference that can be used to compare them. In fact, even mentioning such inferior fireworks as the kind we have in Britain devalues the spectacle a little bit.

And spectacle is definitely the right word, particularly when later into the night the fireworks were joined by hundreds of brightly lit barges (many sporting music and giant illuminated advertising mascots) and a small boat, containing the shiny golden casket that the god the festival celebrates resides in, zipping about. Fireworks, Noh dance, barges and golden casket all combined to create a visual effect that completely overwhelms your ability to take it all in at once.

Sadly my videos failed entirely to capture the scale of what was going on. Especially the fireworks.

The only thing more sensory overloading than the visuals is the absolute crush of people all around you. There were a lot of people lining the riverbanks, an awful lot. As I have mentioned before it is easy to forget quite how many people there are living in Japan until they all try and occupy the same space. I have been more crushed in my time (Arcade Fire at Leeds Festival springs to mind) but that was in a small tent. This was a perfectly open environment and it was already swelteringly hot. The combination of heat, sweat, physical bodies and smell was the only thing that could potentially rival the visual feast for my sensory attention.

Fireworks dispensed with we descended upon the festival tents to eat something (barbequed corn and yakitori for me) and tried to leave at around roughly the same time as several million other people.

I love Japanese festivals unreservedly. There are perhaps more exciting ways to have fun but nothing makes me feel more like I’m making the most of my time here than going to a festival.

Odds and Ends time today as we play catch up on some things I did recently that don’t merit a full post but might be of interest.

The Kobe Matsuri

The hot weather is coming and Matsuri (festival) season is approaching. At the moment we’re stuck firmly in the rainy season in Kobe so the weather is changeable, wet and generally not very nice. However for a brief spell before the rainy season started we had a couple of brilliantly sunny weeks and I got a preview of what summer in Japan will be like. Not fun, although I am looking forward to the festivals.

The Kobe Matsuri was a bit contradictory in many respects. It was partly a huge event and partly a bit of a non-entity. For starters none of the things I associate with Japanese festivals were present, no stalls selling tako-yaki, no goldfish catching games and nothing to do with religion or tradition.

What it did have though was a parade. I’m not particularly well versed in parades as Leeds is not known for any particularly famous ones and so my experience of them is largely limited to Disney World and the Scholes Village Gala. I can safely say that the parade at the Kobe Matsuri was better than the Scholes Gala but probably not as good as Disney World. Yes I know; that’s hardly particularly illuminating but what can I say, I know sod all about parades.

The highlights included.

A group of Beavers, Cubs and Scouts that carried tents in the parade. Of all the things I expected to see small children hefting tents about was not one of them. I’ve seen tents and they don’t really impress me, even if they are hefted by children.

A samba troupe. This group must have been enormous because they had actually managed to set up a second smaller parade on the way to the main one. In the main parade they had legions of women of various ages and body shapes dancing along with a band. The band was pretty fun. Again I know nothing about samba music but I generally dislike most Caribbean music and this was fun and cheery. I feel sorry for the guy singing though; he had to repeat the same phrase again and again for hours. I can only imagine the state his voice was in afterwards.

And finally giant ambulatory cigarettes. Because nothing says Kobe like waving fags.

The parade was a good laugh but the rest of the festival was a distinct disappointment. Events were spread out between the city centre and “Harborland” near the port. The stuff in the city centre wasn’t even vaguely diverting and the “Harborland” attractions had closed by the time we got there from the city centre.

Universal Studios Japan

Due to poor weather Fran and I had to abandon plans to attend a barbeque and were left with a free Sunday and no real plans.

We decided to go to the theme park that’s just on our door, Universal Studios Japan, or USJ as it is more commonly known.

I’ve been to USJ before and I can kind recommend it. If you’re an English speaker than I don’t really recommend it, at least not in preference to the park in Florida. The rides in USJ (Back to the Future, Jaws, Spider-man, Waterworld, Shrek 4-D, Jurassic Park and Backdraft) are all exactly the same as the originals with one exception. They’re all translated into Japanese. This would be a serious disadvantage if you didn’t speak Japanese because most of these rides are story driven and knowing the plot is integral to enjoying them. Only Spider-man and Jurassic Park are really rides with the others being more along the lines of shows or simulators.

However, as I have been on all the original rides I have the luxury of knowing the plot in advance and being able to compare it to the Japanese version. This for me is part of the fun, in that the Japanese attendants are super-super-ultra-genki. The staff in the theme park in Florida are some of the syrupiest, most gee-whiz and golly gee perky monstrosities to ever walk to earth. Doubly so because I’m British and we don’t do perky. But my god, they have absolutely nothing on the Japanese staff. These people are so happy they look like they might explode at any moment and reveal Hello Kitty’s head in their place. They actually applaud you when you complete the ride. Their smiles are like staring into some kind of diabetes hell. Sterner men than I have gone mad gazing into that grin. And yet it holds some kind of bizarre fascination for me. The abyss not only gazes into me it invites further gazing.

There is one attraction which as far as I know is unique to USJ; the Hollywood Dream roller-coaster. It’s a pretty generic coaster, nothing too exhilarating and pretty tame but it has two distinguishing touches, one great and one incredibly lame. The great touch is that riders can select theme music to be played whilst they are on the rollercoaster. I love roller-coasters but I have decided that what I love even more is blasting around a track at high speed whilst the Beatles tell me to get back, get back, get back to where I once belonged.

The distinctly annoying touch is that riders are requested to empty their pockets completely and put them in a locker before riding. Why? I have been riding roller-coasters for years and whilst I have voluntarily divested myself of some things I think might get lost (mostly hats) I have never, ever been requested to entirely empty my pockets. Mostly because it isn’t necessary. G-force pushes stuff back into the seat. Even if you turn upside down (which you don’t) the majority of your pocket contents will stay in your pocket. I know it’s a minor thing to whinge about but the Japanese staff are so bloody insistent about it, constantly checking your pockets and actually checking to see if you have bulges. It feels insanely patronising which is one the biggest issues with being a Gaijin in Japan, the feeling of being patronised constantly. It’s a palpable hatred in the first few months but it eventually fades as you learn how to fit into Japanese culture more effectively.

By far the best thing about the Japanese version of Universal Studios though is the shopping. All I really need to say is that there is a shop called “Hello Kitty Celebrity Style.” Fran was very, very pleased. Pictures of my Helloy Kitty themed humiliation will be posted later this week.

Beer Festival

I love beer.

No, I really, really do.

I don’t drink beer for the alcohol, I don’t even particularly relish being drunk, but if it wasn’t so bad for me I would drink beer with every meal and all day long.

Beer is simply my favourite drink.

And I mean beer here, not lager and not that crap Americans laughingly call beer; actual beer. Ales, stouts, bitters, porters, blondes and all the rest.

I was pleasantly pleased when I moved to Japan and found the beer here to generally be to my liking. In my experience outside of Europe it is a real struggle to get what I would term a decent pint and I was deathly afraid that I would be stuck drinking Asahi Super Dry for three years.

Much to my relief Japanese beer tends to be very strong tasting and flavourful, particularly the “All Malt” and “Hop” versions of the main companies beers. They have a rich and complex palate but are sharp like a lager. Japanese beer uniformly has the body and consistency of a lager too although not always a carbonated one. This generally doesn’t bother me too much as the thinner, waterier beer suits the warm climate. However once in a while I do get a hankering for a proper English Ale.

I was very intrigued then when I was offered a chance to attend the Great Japan Beer Festival in Osaka. For a mere 3000 Yen (about £15) I could drink as much beer as I wanted for 5 hours and sample a variety of brews from across Japan and around the world. Another example of something in Japan that simply would not work in Britain.

When you enter you get a free glass with this brilliant environmental slogan.

I have no idea what it refers to but that is some green thinking I can get behind.

You can take this glass to receive a free sample at any of the various stalls in the building and at various points there are stations where you can rinse out your glass to prevent the cross contamination of flavours.

I had a brilliant day, went with a group of friends, drank many delicious ales, got very tipsy and ended up at the karaoke.

Of the beers I sampled the Japanese beers played to type by all being deliciously flavourful but completely lacking any sort of body. This was especially pronounced in the porters and stouts which were far too watery to possibly bear those names.

Stands out included an “Inperial [sic] Chocolate Stout” which was a wee bit watery but very strong and richly flavoured. Conversely all my friends thought it tasted of tar. A grape beer was highly regarded amongst my companions but to me tasted like a child’s melted lollipop in some beer. A caramel beer from Hokkaido was a massive hit with all concerned and quickly sold out but was my favourite of the day. Rich, sweet, fruity without being sickly and with a caramel undertone that put me in mind of my favourite beer in the world, Deuchars Caledonian IPA. Also a man with a clip-board whom I assumed was quite clued up recommended a Coriander Ale which was one of the foulest things I have ever drunk.

However for me the overall winner was a Palestinian brewery called Taybeh. They produced a range of ales from an IPA to an amber to a very dark ale that were all quite sweet but refreshingly well bodied and very complex on the palate. Their slogan also drew some interest. “Taste the Revolution.” Hmm, possibly not in the best of taste.

Oh and as an added moment of surrealism the food people were selling Shepherd’s Pie.

I shall have to start including that in my self introductions. Nobody in Japan claims to know any British foods outside Fish and Chips so maybe I can surprise them with the revelation that shepherd’s pie was how I used to fortify myself at University.

That’s all for tonight. This week I should have some videos from the festival, pics from USJ and an article I wrote some time ago but that has been sitting on my memory stick at school.

First off I’m sorry that this blog has been updated a lot less frequently than initially promised. But I don’t think I have any regular readers anyway.

However what happenned today was more than enough inspiration to pick up the old quill and do some writing.

So to set the scene, there I was, waiting for a bus as per normal when I noticed that a lot more people were hanging around the bus stop than normal.

Now normally I do talk to some of my students after school at the bus stop but this time there were loads of them.

And some parents, at least I assume they were parents since they kept talking to the kids at the bus stop.

Now one parent in particular seemed very excitable and was trying to tell me something. Unfortunately she doesn’t speak any English. So she was trying to convey this message through a combination of generally very excitable, and because it was excitable, quite quick, Japanese and her daughter.

Now her daughter eventually gave up and just started repeating one word at me, matsuri.

So out I whip the pocket dictionary and one Kanji check later we have our word.

“festival”

No I happened to know that there was a festival being held tonight. And Thursday and Friday. In fact I was planning to try and make one of the other two nights. I want Friday because I have an Elementary school visit Friday so I need to be up bright and early, most people wanted Thursday. I of course told the parent/student that I was going to the festival tomorrow.

This caused yet more excitability.

Evenetually after a 5 minutes of conversing the group of students managed to put together the sentence.

“come here, festival”

Which I initially translated as 2please come to the festial but i then realised meant, “the festival is coming here” which I said outloud to cheers from the assembled students.

At which point the mother says “yes, the festival will come here at 4: 15”

………..why didn’t you just say that in the first place woman.

No sooner have I figured it out than I start to hear drumbeats in the distance.

thum

thum

thum

and then police start swarming onto the street armed with their odd lightsaber things. I get my camera out in readiness and what should roll down the street but this.

Which of course rolls straight past us.

But it then changes course and rolls back up the street and onto the main road. At which point me and dozens of children plus a few old blokes chase after it with cameras.

It was fantastic.

Here is the video I took.

This is the sort of thing I love about Japan. The random and incongruous mix of the old fashioned, artistic, spiritual and very naural with the modern, functional and futuristic. The best image I had up until this point was a Buddhist monk in a yukata riding a moped but this easily takes the cake. Where else in the world can you be waiting for a bus and suddenly be in the middle of an ancient street festival.

I have no idea what the matsuri was in aid of. If I had to guess I would say they were taking a local kami for a bit of a walk. I shall ask tomorrow and try and find out.

Until then I leave you with pictures that I never in a million years imagined I would take.





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