We’ve been in Japan not-quite two weeks yet, but we’ve already encountered many matsuri, or festivals – and it’s not even really festival season!
We arrived on Respect for the Aged Day, and a few days later the nation celebrated the start of Autumn with an official holiday.
We also attended some events for a Japan-Expo, which included food stalls, freebies and festive marching and dancing. Aardvark loved it, obviously – even though it was past her bedtime and it rained, it was a great intro to Japan just a few days into our trip.
Aardvark was ecstatic that the translator proclaimed it a “parade” and that there was dancing. What more could a 3 year old want?
A few days later, on our first day in Japan with little/no rain, we – and all of Tokyo – headed out to Yoyogi Park. After stopping in Shibuya to do a little browsing, of course.
On our walk from Shibuya to Yoyogi Park, we came across a small festival for a local Shrine: lots of drumming and dancing in tune to the music while participants hoisted a portable Shinto Shrine on their shoulders to take the Kami (a term for Shinto dieties) around the neighborhood.
Notice the car in the photo? That’s because the festival happened along an open road! Cars – and busses! – were sharing the road with the parade-marchers as they danced, drummed and chanted.
Yet again, I love the juxtaposition of worshipping a ancient deity – along a big road in the middle of one of the world’s biggest shopping/tourist/fashion districts.
We eventually made our way to Yoyogi Park, where pretty much all of Tokyo had gathered to get out of the house – this is typical. Tokyo apartments are so small that people don’t often entertain at home, etc., they meet up with friends elsewhere (or even spend the night elsewhere when necessary, hence the video game cafes, capsule hotels and of course, the love hotels). Parks are another popular place to meet up and enjoy picnics, space to exercise, etc. Yoyogi Park, in particular, is known as the place for performers – people come here to practice their musical instruments, dance moves, juggling & other busking type activities, etc. So while you will almost always see some polished, intentional street performances with performers in uniform, etc. (we witnessed an Elvis impersonator dance circle right by the Harajuku entrance gate – Aardvark was entranced, in part because there was one child among all the Elvis-looking adults, and she tried to duplicate his moves the next time we were in that part of the park – to pretty decent effect, too!), most often you’ll just see groups of people practicing, working to perfect a part of a routine, etc.
I suppose it’s a great way to get over stage fright – all your mistakes have already been made public (people gather to watch rehearsals as much as real performances), so what’s the worst that could happen in a live performance?!
And it definitely makes for a lovely and lively stroll through the park. And on the first not-raining day in weeks, it seemed everyone was desperate to take advantage of the public grounds. So again, a good, fun, crowded introduction to Tokyo for Aardvark!
We also passed through a weekend Farmer’s Market in the park, which was in some ways similar to local CA farmer’s markets…and some ways not.
And of course, there was yet another festival happening in the park as well: an “Incredible India!” festival we’d attended 5 years ago – but it had at least tripled in size since then. We had dinner from the food stalls there, and Aardvark was enamored with the dance performances and did not want to leave, even though it was – yet again – way past her bedtime.
We were back in Yoyogi today, this time for a Hokkaido festival. It was so much fun they almost had me convinced to scrap our beach trip plans for December and head to the coldest, snowiest part of Japan instead. Wouldn’t it be cool if Aardvark’s first snow experience were in Hokkaido?! But once we got home I regained my consciousness and realized no, I would be miserably cold and even though we packed winter coats, etc., to get us through December, we did not prepare for ice-festival-land cold. Phew. Close one.