Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Festival Fun

Summer is festival season in Japan. Recently we went to the little festival at the local day-care and the one at the shrine near our house, but last weekend was the big one, the one organised by the city. It's called Gaina Matsuri - matsuri is Japanese for 'festival' and gaina means 'big' in the local dialect, so it really is 'the big one'!

H, K and I took the bus into town to avoid the traffic and went to a barbeque held by H's office for lunch. After that we headed to the main street to watch some of the parade. The whole main street leading away from the station was closed to traffic, and stalls were set up along the side of the road.

There were stalls selling all kinds of fun things, like balloons and masks:

And lots of food stalls too - this chap is selling grilled squid and corn-on-the-cob:

Other stalls were running popular festival games. One common one is fishing for goldfish. Instead of a net you have a little scoop lined with paper, which weakens when it gets wet and eventually breaks. The challenge is catch as many goldfish as you can before your scoop disintegrates!

There were various parades going down the main street throughout Saturday and Sunday. The parade on Saturday afternoon was mainly groups of people, such as work or neighbourhood groups, dancing. Here are the city hall staff, including the Mayor in the middle there looking at you:

They were all dressed in traditional festival garb - lightweight summer kimono called yukata for the women and a type of jacket called a happi for the men, along with zori sandals and special divided 'socks' called tabi.

A local bank group performed a dance using umbrellas, which originally comes from Tottori, the prefectual capital.

Another bank group:

Those traditional dances are very sedate and more like walking-with-actions than really dancing. However, there were lots of other styles too. One of my favourites is the yosakoi dance, which comes from Kochi prefecture in Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's 4 main islands. The dancers jump and whirl and use wooden clackers. Their costumes are cooler too :-)

There were also a lot of street dance/hip-hop groups, especially kids from dance schools. The last part that we saw of the parade featured men carrying mikoshi, a kind of portable shrine:

After all that excitement it was time for tired little K to go home, so we didn't see the evening part of the parade this year. In the evening the main event is the manto parade - literally, 10,000 lanterns. Men carry very long bamboo poles with lanterns hanging off them. Of course, simply carrying them isn't challenge enough so the poles are balanced on the palm of the hand, on the shoulder, hip, even chin! H has done it a few times in the past with his colleagues and I enjoy cheering them on. There is always at least one pole which comes crashing down, scattering the spectators, but that just adds to the fun...

Eventually I found a photo of it here, so you don't have to miss out after all!

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