Friday, September 17, 2010

Some Matsuri History

Matsuri () is the Japanese word for a "festival".

In Japan, festivals are usually sponsored by a local shrines or temples (a focal point for many communities). The Kamogawa festival is one such festival where several of the local shrines (each located in a local suburb) combine to celebrate together.

There are no specific matsuri days for all of Japan; dates vary from area to area, and even within a specific area, but Kamogawa's festival is usually held mid-September. Almost every locale has at least one matsuri in late summer/early autumn, and is usually related to the rice harvest.

Notable matsuri often feature processions which may include elaborate floats called yatai or dashi. Preparation for these processions is usually organized at the level of neighborhoods, or machi. Prior to these, the local kami (gods) may be ritually installed in mikoshi (portable shrines carried on the shoulders) and paraded through the streets. These mikoshi are often very heavy and taxing to carry leaving those involved with badly bruised shoulders and aching bodies. Parading them is not as straight forward as it sounds either, as the mikoshi are shaken and tossed in the air at regular intervals to show appreciation to local donors and spectators for their support. In Kamogawa their is one rare mikoshi that has 4 drummers actually seated on it playing traditional taiko drums which play continuously, even when the mikoshi is suddenly accidentally dropped. Of course it is a dangerous practice, but one that has been going for many, many years and brings great excitement.

I was involved this year with the float and was given the rare opportunity and responsibility of assisting to steer the float through the narrow streets while people pulled it along using long ropes attached to the front. The floats are manned by a team of drummers, usually kids and teenagers from the local suburb who spend weeks practicing each evening under the watchful eye of elders. They are accompanied by flutists and a kind of small hand held gong, all of which makes a very entertaining sight and sound. In Kamogawa, the floats all gather in front of the station on the Sunday and play in friendly rivalry, which attracts many onlookers, photographers and TV cameras. It's also the perfect opportunity to see old friends and make new ones as you share the camaraderie of the day.

One can always find in the vicinity of a matsuri, booths selling souvenirs and food such as takoyaki, and games.

Favorite elements of the bigger, more famous matsuri, are often broadcast on television for the entire nation to enjoy. Chiba TV covers the Kamogawa festival and usually has a program featuring it in late September or October sometime.

I'll post some random photos soon...

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