Hittin' the books
Its hard to say how or why most traditional practices were formed or if what they began as still resembles what that have involved into now, but its fair to say that the Japanese festival, or matsuri could only be nurtured on the cut of islands of Japan, and could have only become what they have without outsiders to gawp and cry “what the hell is going on here!?” for 400 hundred years or so.
I write this currently comatosed by the depths of an early spring fever, as my body finally shut down after 2 of the busiest (and possibly most stressful) months of my life.
They included my school shutting down, the changing of teachers, graduation ceremonies, my parents visiting me, cycling from my house to Kyushu over 600km, running a 10km race, a sitting a 2 week intensive Japanese course and on top of that having to say goodbye to most of the people and student I have worked with for my time in Japan.
Busy, busy, I am quietly confident that I am going to spent the rest of my tour in Japan in or around the islands of
the Inland sea and my beautiful little rock. The sights and sounds of summer are growing and multiplying and I am down from jumpers and socks in bed to listening intently for the coming mukade in the walls.
During the time that has past, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Japanese intensive course in the historical (aren’t they all) city of Matsuyama, in Ehime. I say luckily but it was a backbreaking amount of time and travel expenses, which helped me, arrive there for the required 70% attendance, and at times I questioned whether or not I should be saving myself the bother. However, before arriving in Japan, I had set myself a goal to have at least my myself competent in Japanese, and after a few months I had set myself the ongoing task of sitting the level Japanese proficiency test after my 2 year tenure. I therefore sat through hours of travel and hot and cold trains and ferries, even getting stranded one night as high winds grounded my return vessel on one occasion.
Matsuyama. Shikoku's largest city and the home to one of Japans most famous novel stories. Bochan, a book
about a Tokyo teacher who moves tot eh then, deep country to teach group of rowdy country boys, has been almost coined as the real history of the city. Traditionally one of Japans first tourist towns, Matsuyama was made famous by its thermal spas and spring water.
I am happy to say that I visited a different onsen almost every night and felt all the better for those visits.
I am almost lucky that I have lived so far from onsens, a luxery readily available all over Japan, and have not got used to it, as when I go home to Britain, it is gorging to be difficult to enjoy certain past-times without them. Cycling, snowboarding, just be out tint eh cold, or for that fact just being is made all the more pleasurable with an onsen on ht end of it.
On top of the course, many onsens and countless meals out and even my bi yearly trip to a cinema, I was lucky to stumble across the Matsuyama Dogo matsuri. I would say it was unique but by any standards, all Japanese festivals are unique. Even the autumn festival on the island next to mine, bares little
resemblance to my own. And on the island there are different festivals for each neighborhood. The time and relative peace that Japan experienced, allowed for small and individual characteristic to evolve I completely different directions, much like the rainforest leaf insect that has physically developed to match the square 50m that it has inhabited for millions of years. However, compared to the fragile insect with simply dies out when its environment changes, the ever powerful ability to absorb and adapt that the Japanese posses, has meant that he matsuri is going as strong as ever. Thank goodness for that then.
In the past, women in Japan were considered not only second citizens, but almost dirty, I heard from a colleague. Thus, women were strictly forbidden to climb certain holy mountain and take part in certain religious practices, and certainly forbidden from touching the ceremonial portable shrines and Shinto festivals.
Things have of course moved on now. So much so now that all over the country there are many women only festivals, were the shrines bearers consist of only of the fairer sex.
This festival was an example of that kind of festival, and the hundred or so
matsuyama, neigh, shikokus most famous sight. its ok.
bearers were made up some of the feistiest and beautiful participants I had seen. I only wish there were more festivals such as this.
On the whole, this kind of festival consists of carry around the giant and painful danjiris to various places of significant. Presenting them and saying prayers, or simply shaking it around to the sound of taiko drums and chanting. Its great! And it begs the question "what is Morris dancing and how did it all get so crap?"
I watched the beautiful bearers and their yakuza wife-esq. group leaders, in their thick rimmed gold, glasses and flowery tracksuits, leaping and crying around Dogo for a couple of hours and it really did make me wonder what happened in Britain that we missed out on this? But at the same time, I would be very very surprised to see the Japanese leaping around they we do at clubs, weddings and football matches. We must all crave these group moments of bodily exertion, but as in so many ways the Japanese have found a way of planning and executing them, well, excellently.
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