There’s a never-ending cycle of organized social festivals found throughout the year in Japan where I’ve been able to experience this culture in all its splendor, ceremony and sameness. The festivals usually involve synchronized dancing, a copious amount of drinking and eating, and the generally happy gathering of a remarkably large and similarly dressed extended family.
Somewhere – at some point – at nearly all of these festivals, there’s a parade.
A stream of objects and people. Colorfully costumed.
Assembled in ensembles.
Moving en masse.
From the streets, as an innocent onlooker, it’s a delight to watch the well-oiled cogs of the Japanese community at play.
Great rivers of color and movement.
Drifting and converging.
On January 16th, there’s the national holiday, Seijinshiki (Seijin meaning adult or grown-up), which is a celebration for those reaching the age of twenty.
Towns and villages throughout the country sponsor “Coming of Age” ceremonies. It’s hard not to get lost in the elegance and awkward grace of these young adults.
Especially the young women.
So rich in color and texture that anything or anyone surrounding them dissolves into the background.
Their black, shiny hair curled and twisted with flowers and ribbons.
Their skin, milky white.
And lips, cherry red.
Hidden smiles behind colorful fans.
Or delicate, porcelain hands.
Each kimono, bright and splendid.
Each obi, so masterfully and uniquely tied.
Reading like a family crest of silk, ribbon and embroidery.
On March 3rd, even though the festival originally marked the passage of 5 years for boys, Koimatsuri (Boys Day), now shares the pond with Kodomo-no-Hi (Children’s Day) and Hina-matsuri (Girls’ Festival). During this celebration, brightly colored Koi streamers flutter overhead everywhere.
From tree to tree, house to house.
Swimming against the currents of wind.
Symbolizing the hope that the children of Japan will be strong.
Such as the carp fighting its way up stream.
Where, it is said, lie the great falls.
Where stands a gate.
Beyond which is a dragon’s life for the determined koi.
In first part of April there is the fantastically fragrant Cherry Blossom season (Hanami) during which celebrations to welcome spring take place day and night beneath the blossoming trees.
The other day at work, Kuranaga-kacho told Akiko and I to go.
Honor the blossoms.
So, the two of us drove to Saitobaru Burial Mounds where we lazily strolled down the rows of cherry trees.
Beneath their brief, but intoxicating peak.
Relishing, amid the petals, our temporary release from the office.
After the graduation ceremonies in March, come the entrance ceremonies in April.
During this time, there are also parties to say good-bye to old office mates and hello to new co-workers when transfers, promotions and retirements happen in one broad sweep.
Just as in mid-December, there is a Bonnenkai, or Year End Office party, during which failures, frustrations and disappointments are forgotten and only successes are toasted.
Oddly enough, this notion strikes the same chord as the unspoken day-after-drinking protocol in Japan. Whatever happens the night before, remains in the already-forgotten past by morning.
If not slightly lily-livered.
Especially since this applies mostly to men who seem to imbibe – and misbehave – far more than the women here do.
Even with the festival-filled days of summer past, the Japanese fill the cooling days and typhoon season with athletics, as well as cultural and harvest celebrations, such as the Tsukumatsuri (Festival of the Moon) in September.
Being the Land of the Rising Sun, you’d think they’d worship that big red ball on their flag a bit more. But here in Japan, men and women (especially the women) shun the sun with scarves, hats and parasols.
Sometimes all at once.
Instead, they worship the moon and love spending time celebrating its greatness beneath its fair light.
And no fall – or spring – would be complete in Japan without Ensoku, an athletic festival. Exercise is elemental to the Japanese way of thinking. It’s not only a part of school life, but office and social life.
I remember attending my first Ensoku at Tonda Junior High. The school grounds and surrounding woods were an ocean of sea green, genderless, gym suits milling about or engaged in some planned activity or another.
I swam among them.
Joining a search.
Or a game.
Making them use English.
Struggling with my Japanese.
I always love the time I have outside class with my students. When the eyes of their sensei are no where in sight. And the distance to the front of the classroom has disappeared.
All I Can Say Is…
- Yet another birthday has passed and even though I kept things far more subdued than last year, I still managed to celebrate plenty. In addition to flowers, a boatload of handkerchiefs and more booze than is good for me, my office family gave me an unbelievably cool Canon 35mm camera. All I can say is… if they get any more endearing I might consider adopting each and every one of them.
- I’m trying to keep up with world events, so I won’t get too out of touch with the outside world. All I can say is… What the hell is going on out there?