Sunday, September 10, 2006
Festival in Hanamaki
During the weekend, I traveled to Iwate-Ken, which is North of Sendai. Like most of Northern Japan, Iwate-Ken is abundant in rolling hills and mountain ranges covered in green forest with terraced rice fields growing up in the basins and valleys between them. The rice appeared slightly yellower up north than it is here in Koriyama, as the crop that defines this landscape and culture edges toward another harvest season.
And just as Americans prepare to celebrate another Halloween and Thanksgiving, the Japanese also mark the harvest season in their own way, with local festivities and events in their areas.
I went to Iwate to visit an old friend from Northern Arizona University. He invited me up because he, his girlfriend, and a couple friends were going to carry one of the many portable shrines (mikoshi) through the parade in the streets. He and two other Americans had joined the team last year, and apparently had such a good time they were going to do it again this year. They payed a fee for their uniforms and the cost of food and drink that was provided to the group. Their group provided everyone with drinks and food before and after the 2 1/2 hours of marching through the streets of the town. Not carrying the shrine, I showed up for the preparation. Dozens of different groups, comprising schools, civic groups, companies, and other organizations all carried their shrines through the streets on their shoulders. A similar festival takes place in my city in October.
While I didn't carry the shrine, my friends had fun carrying it around. I left shortly before they started to carry the shrine off, and got lost in the labrynthine mess of streets in this town. By the time I finally found my bearings, I couldn't find their shrine to photograph! Regardless of this minor disappointment, I did enjoy the food that often accompanies these events, which includes yaki-soba (fried noodles), yaki-tori (grilled salty meat on skewers), and choco banana (take a guess). The first two taste great with beer.
The shrine carriers often try to make a show of being very dramatic, often lifting, pulling, spinning and dipping the shrine around to entertain spectators. The carriers of the mikoshi shrines also yell out cheers and chants, directed by the rhythm of old men blowing whistles in 3/4 time. Fueled with the stamina and energy of Kirin Lager beer, they sometimes get a little carried away, and wind up trampling the spectators lining the streets! I witnessed this a couple times as the whistle-blowing directors failed to steer their shrines away from unsuspecting spectators. I don't think anybody was hurt.
After this, I met up with them again at the after-party, where we had more food and drink. The entire group then rented out a karaoke place somewhere else in town, where we all went. It was a spectacular event with all the trimmings. While I had the luxury of taking a day to recover from the evenings' merriment, many of the participants have to carry the big thing on Sunday night as well. As in Koriyama, the festival is a 3 day event. In fact, they are probably marching through the streets in Hanamaki as I write these words!
The next day, Brenden cooked pancakes and eggs and we talked about our jobs, politics, and our two favorite professors from Northern Arizona University. In fact, I think I'm going to drop them a note sometime soon and let them know what we're up to.