Last night we went back to Takefu for what will probably be one of the last summer festivals we go to this year. This was pretty much unlike other festivals I’ve been to, because it was so local and folksy. Granted, it was basically the same kind of stuff you see at all Japanese festivals — food stalls, game stalls, and people — but what made this one special was that it was so remote. Most of the time, the festivals I go to are fairly big and fairly close to the train station, so there are plenty of out-of-towners and folks from all the neighborhoods. This was purely a 1-neighborhood deal though, located within a large temple’s grounds. It was completely off the beaten track, in a neighborhood with no traffic lights, heck not even any street lights. Hitomi had gone there since she was a kid, because it’s her home neighborhood, so she knew the area well enough to find this place. But to get there, we basically walked through the pitch black, narrow alleys, with only the distant sound of folk songs guiding us.
When we finally got there, it was like the party scene from Karate Kid 2 — nighttime, colored lamps everywhere, and super crowded. This was a costumed festival too, so everyone was wearing strange clothing, kind of like a Japanese Halloween.
The main point of this even was a dance competition. It was a lot like the Bon dance we’ve done every year at the Takefu summer festival, but instead of doing it in lines down the street, everyone made a big circle around a scaffolding from which the singers were chanting out really ancient-sounding folk songs. Lots of people wore festival kimonos and hats, some folks carried lanterns, and there was even an old man dressed as a fool who was playing some kind of noise sticks off of his head, the ground, and other people. There were so many colors, even in the pitch black of night, and the singing was completely not what one would associate with a festival, so the whole evening took on an otherworldly feel.
After watching the dance for a while, we joined in, right next to a completely plastered old man wearing lady’s clothing and dancing like it was the last night of his life. On our other side was another drunk old man who looked like he was plucked from a country club gold course, and who danced like a sugar plum fairy. It was completely nuts. The dancing was tough to just jump in and learn and do, but eventually some older ladies helped us out by showing us the steps and keeping our rhythm.
At the end of the night, prizes were awarded to the best dancers. We weren’t anywhere near decent, but — as always happens — being the only foreigner, I was given a prize anyway. We won a marbled cooking pot. Yay!
Just for the sights and sounds and atmosphere of the night, this was easily the coolest festival I have ever been to in Japan.