Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hanamaki throws a good party

Wife, Daughter and I went up north to Wife's hometown in Iwate Prefecture last weekend to enjoy their summer festival offering: The Hanamaki Matsuri. Although I've visited Hanamaki many times, this was my first time to visit during the festival. In fact, you might say this was my first real Japanese festival experience. And it only took me ten years.

Sure, Wife and I faithfully attended the Daita Hachiman Obon festival every August when we lived in Setagaya. And we made a point this year of checking out the Yanagisaki version of the same, which takes place a short distance from where we live now. But it turns out that these affairs, which basically boil down to a handful of yakisoba stands and a bunch of old ladies doing the traditional Japanese equivalent of line dancing, pale in comparison to real Japanese festivals.

Real Japanese festivals are gnarly!

Hanamaki's festival is essentially three days of sporadic parades happening all over the city at various times, with each day capped off by a big "main parade" that lasts from late afternoon until after dark in the city center. The main parade begins with mikoshi ("portable shrines" that are carried in a surprisingly reckless fashion down the road by crowds of shouting citizens), then moves on to dashi (elaborate floats, pushed manually and flanked by musicians) and finishes off with the distinctly Tohoku tradition of shishiodori (the deer dance; imagine a hundred dudes dressed like nightmarish heavy metal monster deer beating drums and jumping around...or, if you're imaginationally challenged, watch this video of shishiodori dancers at Fujiwara no Sato Heritage Park in Esashi, Iwate).

In contrast with the meager food selection usually offered at local festivals in the Tokyo area, here there is an entire street dedicated to pedestrian cuisine: grilled this, candied that, what-have-you on a stick, yaki whatever. You have to walk up and down both sides of the street and see what's there, otherwise you might eat your fill of something and then find out afterward that there was something better up the road.

It typically pours rain on at least one of the festival's three days. This lends a certain je ne sais quoi to the spectacle and the experience, but makes photography a pain in the neck. Luckily, it only rained on the third day of this year's festival. I took the photos below on days one and two. Click to enlarge, naturally.

They carry mikoshi in a zigzag down the road so that spectators on both sides can see.

Dashi. Many of these are decorated with fairy tale or historical figures.

Yes, the dashi are decorated with real torches. And yes, sometimes the dashi accidentally start on fire.

Shamisen players

Torches are deployed before the shishiodori performance

The mask sits atop the deer dancer's head, making him look taller than he really is.

The girl on the left fans the kids carrying the mikoshi. But nobody fans the girl. Her sacrifice is forgotten.

Taiko drummers

On the way home, we had to wait for a passing shishiodori troupe.

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