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Saturday, April 29, 2017

There's a Story Behind Every Japanese Festival

祭りの背景

Japan is steeped in tradition - or what looks like tradition, with a great number of historical buildings, for example, that were destroyed in World War II having been reconstructed, either as a facade or painstakingly much as they used to be.

There's a Story Behind Every Japanese Festival。


The Tokyo Kabukiza theater is a case in point. In 2013, the old theater was demolished but its facade meticulously recreated over the first few floors of the skyscraper built in the original's place.

However, when it comes to activities, such as neighborhood festivals with people dressed in traditional garb and doing traditional things, you expect the event to be firmly rooted in tradition - local tradition, of course. Yet, talking to a Japanese colleague, I found that not even festivals are always what they seem.

My colleague related how in his hometown, a festival (matsuri) takes place every year that is not only fairly new - i.e. about 40 years old, but which doesn't even involve locals. Rather, it was started by a group in a neighboring town that chose my colleague's town for its better layout for a festival. The group spent a great sum of money on getting an omikoshi portable shrine made, and has held its festival in the town every year.

However, maybe because it's not their town, the festival participants tend to get a bit carefree once they've downed a few sakes, being generally raucous and on the verge of disorderly, and leaving cigarette butts and other trash behind them.

The hosting town is in a bit of a bind because they don't want to cause any hard feelings, especially since the festival goers have gone to the lengths they have in establishing the festival, because it's already been happening for forty or so years, and because it's just one day a year.

I would have thought that, this being Japan, a few quiet words at the right time would be enough to prevent recurrences, but in this case apparently that hasn't worked. He concluded "Sometimes there's nothing for it but to shut up or shout 'wasshoi!'"

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