• 05 . 03 . 05
  • Another town festival, this one in Ibigawa.

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Festival Fever

I managed to get along to another festival today, making two in a week. The Ibigawa Town festival was in large respects similar to the Tarui festival I saw on Tuesday, having several large floats on which kabuki was performed by children, but it was still worth seeing. Ibigawa is only a small town and it felt like every single person had come out for the day, thronging the streets and creating a great atmosphere that you don’t really get back home. I can’t think of anything I’ve seen that’s similar to this and it really underlines the importance of community and family to Japanese people. The nearest comparison I can draw would be a small British town’s summer fete, though with much more interest from the locals, much more history and no ‘weigh the pig’ contest. At the end of the day, I think it’s actually just an excuse to get drunk and see your fellow townspeople, but that in itself is no bad thing.

Because we arrived earlier to this festival than Tarui’s, we were able to see groups of townspeople carrying smaller portable shrines on their shoulders. These shrines, or Mikoshi, were again each representative of one of the town’s districts and were carried by that district’s residents. What was most surprising for me was that for the smaller Mikoshi carried by children, girls were actually allowed to join in! Who says there’s no social progress in Japan! I was even told that women could touch the big floats at this festival, though none of my friends were brave enough to be the first one to do it…

The Mikoshi section of the festival apparently had some sort of story to it, though its exact meaning and history escaped me. The smaller Mikoshi seemed to be chased by the larger Mikoshi, which essentially resulted in herds of young men running up and down the main street, avoiding anxious passers-by and street vendors. When they were eventually trapped, the large and small shrines would ‘fight’ by banging together, accompanied by loud chanting from their carriers. The large ones always won, leaving the smaller to charge away again and repeat the process further down the street. The festival proceeded in this manner for quite a long time!

Later on, after the kabuki had been performed, the larger floats were once again wheeled back to their homes to much applause and cheering. All the townspeople seemed very proud (and rightly so) of the display and chattered excitedly about how good the performances were, how big the floats were and how well the young men had pulled the machines around. Having missed the festivals last year, I’m really glad I got to see something so uniquely Japanese. The town where I work, Ogaki, is having its festival a week on Saturday, so I’ll probably end up going there as well!

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