Monday, August 08, 2005

The drums, the flutes and the crowds.... amazing festival

Took in the second part of the Mia Matsuri summer festival which was going on just a few blocks from my place... gotta love the convenience!!! It was an amazing day\night.

I left home at about 5PM or so, with plans to meet Shige at 6, Riyo and her friends at some point and Scott and maybe some other AEONites at some point as well. Headed out onto old O-dori and joined the crowds bouncing around to the sounds of traditional Japanese drums and flutes as a progression of bands, dancers and mikoshi made their way down one side of the boulevard before turning around in front of work and heading down the other side of the street. I placed myself right where most of the groups seemed to stop for a little performance and took it all in. Everybody was in a great mood, as Stacy had promised, with people going out of their way to say hello to me in English.... and that was before most of the booze had been poured!

Here's a group of drummers and dancers aproaching my position.

Unfortunately, after about 30 minutes of enjoyment, I started to feel a few rain drops coming down and decide to head home to pick up an umbrella. I made it home just as the storm was hitting, grabbed my umbrella but then didn't make it very far. The rain and wind was coming down so hard that the umbrella was pretty much useless. I took refuge with a few other party-goers under a parking structure and waited it out. Unfortunately for the police, they seem to have to man their posts even in the driving rain...

When it slowed down a bit more I made my way back towards the festivities, but it started up again pretty hard so I went into AEON's building to stay dry with some other folks. Shige met up with me there, unfortunately he'd been drenched. We headed out into the parking garage to have a glance out at the street and see what was what. Spotted this nice gentleman sharing his umbrella with one of the policemen.

Through the rain, officials kept coming up on the loudspeakers and telling the crowds (most of which were hidden near building, in the tunnels, shopping malls, or under covered sections of the street) that the festivities would in fact continue no matter when the rain stopped coming down. After more than an hour of heavy rains, the clouds finally parted, the crowds turned back into the streets in droves and the party continued.

So the mikoshi kept floating on by, the drums kept drumming and people kept having a blast. At this point, I heard from Riyo that her friend had given up but that Riyo herself would be joining us. Also heard back from Scott who said that he's be heading down after his hard day of rafting but that most of the rest of the AEON group was too bushed to come down. While Shige and I waited, we kept enjoying the parade\festival. These guys and girls who carry these these are almost in a trance... chanting and bouncing up and down... a trance brought on by sake and exhaustion of course but they seem to be having fun nonetheless.

This is one of the drummer carts which were strewn throughout the streets providing a nice beat to the celebrations.

Had to take a picture with this guy... he was dancing around near one of the portable shrines... that's not my hand in the dragon's head... that's the guy inside....

Just in time for the fireworks, both Riyo and Scott showed up and we had a lovely show with Mikoshi taking a quick rest to enjoy the fireworks as well.

They certainly put on a heck of a show and it was a nice end to the festival.

Ornate drumming cart beings pulled by people with dancers on the roof...

After the fireworks, we grabbed a few beers and headed up to Futara-san shrine, which was all lit up.

The view from the top, lovely lanterns hangins around.

The best picture of the day, my friend Riyo looking quite striking in her Yukata.

So after visiting the shrine and making a quick prayer, we trundled our way back into the remnants of the crowds looking for a place to go. We checked out Orion-dori again and spotted a group of Bosuzoku (bunch of wannabe biker gang punks) and Yakuza (Japanese mob - not wannabes, these guys are nastier than the Hells Angels in some cases) putting on a quick demonstration as they usually do at festivals just to be disruptive. Shortly thereafter Scott headed home to get some rest and Riyo, Shige and I ended up at the Lion's Head for a few drinks before finally turning in for the night.

The atmosphere was amazing all weekend, they certainly know how to put in a show here too. I was also really impressed with the logistics of it all. After the festival in Oyama last week, there was garbage everywhere in the streets, drunk people puking all over the place and everything was quite chaotic as thousands of people made their way back to the train station. Utsunomiya's got festival hosting down to an art. By the time we made our way back down from the shrine, vehicular traffic had returned to O-dori, the crowds had dispersed and the streets were clean... pretty amazing.

So that was that, my first real Japanese festival was a big hit.

One day of work tomorrow, then 7 days off... quite nice... I'm looking forward to shedding the suit for 7 days straight for the first time in 3 months!!! Looks like there are some plans for sightseeing in Tokyo on Wednesday morning, I'll check out the train schedule and costs and see if I can make it. I leave for Sendai on Friday and will be back probably late on Sunday night.

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