Thursday, 12 November 2009

Festivals in autumn

Masks exhibited in Kawaguchi, Aizu, Fukishima-ken for National Culture Day

Festivals in Japan come thick and fast. The calendars that are hung everywhere (I counted eight in one front room) are peppered with seasonal days and celebrations, including the pitifully few national holidays that the embattled and hammered down workforce are entitled to. People throw themselves into these with a will, whether helping voluntarily or for a few extra Yen staffing one of the many food stalls that seem almost to be the main point of any gathering.

Nursing stew into life

Operating on an improvised breeze-block cooker

It's good to see everyone, children often included, setting to with a will, enjoying the banter and catching up on gossip over a big steaming pot of something. Remarkably each small village still makes it's own festivals rather than joining together into something bigger. This would perhaps be more rational, attracting more visitors to any one activity of performance, but somehow less their own, and besides, it's always been this way. Therefore for National Culture Day on 3rd November, there were three exhibitions, three sets of performances, and three lots of food to try - if you managed to scurry round them all.
The ageing curve in Aizu

The white heat of attention was on the vegetable stall

Gender roles are alive and well in Kaneyama

As with most things, It's even better if you join in and contribute something yourself rather than simply spectating. For us the main point of the cultural day was our Taiko performance - or rather three of them, one for each village. The boy, the wife and me joined the group whose purpose is to help children learn Taiko, though I had decided to stop after this, as the deafening noise is not the best for my bad ear. 

Our first go was at the splendiferous venue up the road, big and with great acoustics. The gravitas of our performance was somewhat lessened by my slipping on my arse between pieces as I rushed into place, foolishly forgetting to take my socks off for the shiny stage boards. The audience thoroughly enjoyed it though - no respect, some people. The second was outdoors by the council offices, and it stopped raining just in time. Otherwise I could have caused further merriment by whacking hell out of the rain canopies every time I raised my arms. 
Taiko with the Jomon period hilltop fort behind (photo Ichikawa-san)

By the last performance that night we had got into our stride, and I managed not to fall over or knock anyone else's stick out of their hand. The boy was beating thunderously on the huge drum centre stage with two other seven-year-olds. We worked ourselves up faster and faster, movements meshed with sound, louder and louder, beating back the mountains above us, until animals in the snow-dusted woods around must have paused in wonder, nosing off into the dark in search of food. Maybe I won't stop after all.


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