Saturday, July 15, 2006

Day of Festivals- Part I

Sultry summer days mark the beginning of “matsuri” (festival) season, and in true Japanese spirit Ash and I decided to immerse ourselves in this unique cultural experience. Each community seems to have its own celebration of a traditional something or other, often on the same day, so you really have to pick and choose.

Today we decided to go into Sawara, known for the massive “dashi” (floats) that parade down the city streets all day long. They’re quite a sight to behold, as each intricately carved wooden frame (there are 10 in all) support a large doll on the very top and are pulled/pushed by at least 10 people dressed up in traditional farming gear while the 12 to 14 men carried inside the float itself play taico drums and bamboo flutes.

The word “doll” seems so inappropriate- they’re more like colossal, carefully detailed puppets that can be raised and lowered and overall look mighty impressive. My personal favorite happened to be a carp woven entirely of rush that could have easily swallowed a child and gone looking for 20 more, probably because I didn’t know the famous warriors/emperors/gods/heroes the other dolls represented.

While the floats were interesting, as was the sheer effort of the float-bearers to keep the ungainly things moving, the atmosphere of the matsuri itself wasn’t quite what I’d expected. It’s as if the city were half-heartedly going through the motions of what I’d envisioned to be a time of pride, energy, and fun. Even the vendors seemed grumpy and uninterested in what they were doing. Not really wanting to spend any more money on average-tasing yakisoba (fried noodles), we hopped back onto the air-conditioned train with relief. There was one more festival to go to, but our interest had waned…

Note to self: Heat = sweat = dabbing at face with sweat rag = facial sunscreen rendered useless. On the next outing, wear a hat or bring an umbrella.

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