Thursday, July 31, 2008


Natsu Matsuri

We recently had our neighborhood summer festival. It is a charming little event held at the local preschool, organized by the neighborhood association and one of the highlights of summer for us this year, since we are usually in California when it is held. The two day event kicked of with the parading of the "mikoshi" through the streets. The portable shrine was hoisted up onto the shoulders of several men (Yes, Toshi was actually one of them!) and they carried it around the neighborhood. It would be too boring to simply walk through the town, so they are all the time lifting the mikoshi up and down, walking in circles, back and forth, shouting "washoi! WASHOI!" The men carrying the mikoshi are followed by two teams of local elementary school kids, wearing matching hapi coats, carrying miniature versions of the mikoshi. Next came the large taiko drum, played by the older kids, on the bed of a small truck which had two long ropes attached to the front and was pulled through the neighborhood by the remaining kids - including Mina and Sam. Before the group headed out, the children were all given bells of various sizes and colors. They had been attached to a large board, each one assigned a number and the children picked numbers out of a box to see which bell they received. They tied their bells to themselves and the entire procession jingled as it walked. In case, the cries of "WASHOI!," taiko drum and jingle bells were not making enough of a ruckus, there is also a loud speaker blaring recorded festival music attached to the truck. As we walked through the neighborhood, people came out of their houses to watch, place coins in the offering box, and sometimes squirt us with hoses to cool us off. There were two breaks along the route and everyone was offered drinks and snacks; the men dancing around with the heavy mikoshi were fortified with sake and beer. Toshi thought he was going to be sick with all the alcohol and exertion before 11 AM. Once we returned to the preschool yard, the children were given onigiri rice balls to take home for lunch. Toshi was served cold somen noodles and more beer. Thankfully there was a lull after that during which Toshi promptly passed out on the couch in the air-conditioned living room. That evening, we returned to the festival area where games were organised for the children. One was a ring toss and the other was a rock, scissors, paper showdown. Five of the neighborhood elders lined up and the children had to win five matches in a row to get a prize. Mina advanced to the fourth man in the line up but lost with a weak rock in her final contest. Still, she won some bubbles in the ring toss. Every household in the neighborhood is given a kind of raffle ticket for a chance to win rice, potatoes or consolation prizes like tissue or dish soap. A few local organizations had set up booths selling curry, cotton candy, and hot dogs on sticks (not corn dogs, no cornmeal, just the naked wieners). At one booth you could fish for "yo-yos," really a water balloon attached to a rubber band, that you can bounce on your hand. There were no fish this year. Thank goodness. After awhile the "bon odori" started. Ladies in "yukata," summer kimono, made a circle around the large taiko drum and began the simple, traditional dancing. Mina enjoyed falling in line and trying to mimic their movements, so much so that at the end of the evening one of the dance leaders presented Mina with a folding fan. Perhaps the best part of the festival was not the event itself, but the week after the festival. Every time we pass someone walking through the neighborhood, they comment on how darling Mina looked in her purple yukata, or say that they saw her dancing. The festival gave us a chance to cement our ties to the community. We saw the twin girls whose piano lessons immediately follow Mina's and actually had the opportunity to talk with them for awhile. Mina had a chance to play with a few of her neighborhood friends, something she can't often do. I made a new friend through a friend of a friend, someone who had been wanting to meet me, but never had the opportunity to approach me until I was standing around the festival watching the children enjoy themselves. It is a community event and having a strong sense of community is something I truly appreciate about my life in Japan.

This is great. I had Taiko drummers come to our school.
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