It has been really hot today, the cicadas have been performing their selfish chorus ("Me, Me, Me, Meeeeeee, Me Me") all afternoon and since it was a beautiful evening we decided to go out for a nocturnal stroll. We were delighted to discover that this evening there was a festival (Matsuri) taking place at the temple opposite our house. As we are new to the area this was quite unexpected, and something of a treat because, unlike most local 'festivals' back home in the UK, Japanese Matsuri are usually interesting and fun.
The temple courtyard was lit up with red lanterns, each bearing the name of a local business or notable person participating in the Matsuri. At the temple gates a group of drummers sat on a raised platform, drawing in passers-by with their almost hypnotic beat. The place was filled with little stalls, mostly selling typical Japanese snacks like Tako-yaki (octopus pieces in balls of batter), Okonomiyaki (meat and vegetables in a kind of pankake), Yaki-tori (seasoned chicken pieces on skewers, freshly grilled) as well as bananas covered in hot chocolate and watta-ame (candy floss). The cooking smell added to the drumbeat drew us almost irresistably into the festival itself.
On hot summer days like this, the locals who know about these events tend to dress for the occasions, with the children in bright cotton suits and their parents in the light summer kimono called Yukatta (worn by both men and women), which is usually more restrained in decoration but lends an exotic colour to the crowds. I had hoped to see an 'awa-odori', a folk dance where the participants encourage crowd participation singing "You'll look a fool if you dance, and a fool if you don't so since you're going to look a fool either way why not enjoy yourself and dance?" but if they had had one, we were too late. There was a small stage, and a couple of local folk music groups performed traditional Japanese songs before the main performer, a minor J-pop celebrity called Haru sang her latest single, and one or two other songs.
While all this takes place in the courtyard of a temple, there was never any religious overtones, just good clean family fun. The beer sellers were doing a brisk trade, and children were running round in groups, or trying to win goldfish by scooping them up in tissue paper nets (another typical fixture of a Japanese festival). We ate a few snacks, the Tako-yaki was excellent, and made our way home (all of 5 minutes away). In a few weeks we'll be visiting my parents-in-law in Sendai, and hopefully we'll get to see the much larger Tanabatta festival (celebrating an aincient Chinese story about the princess of Heaven who is seperated from her shepherd-boy love by the river of heaven (the Milky Way), and once a year, in August, they are allowed to meet - at the time of the Tanabatta festival). This will have city wide events, and in the evening there will be spectacular firework displays which are always fun, especially for the children.
As always, if you have reached this point I am impressed with your patience, and thank you for your attention. I hope your Sunday proves to be as diverting as mine has :)