Sunday, August 03, 2008

Summer festival

Tetsu asked me to come to the summer festival that was being held at his convalescent home on Friday evening. Everyone in the community was invited and different groups performed and there were booths scattered around selling drinks and fried chicken and toys for the kids. It was a pretty typical small festival and I stood on the outskirts and took pictures.

The parking lot was decorated with paper lanterns and a center stage for the flute and drum performers. While traditional songs were sung (sort of like a cat screeching sound but it grows on you after you hear it awhile), community groups and neighbors danced the Bon Odori. It is a slow type of dance with a lot of stamping around in a circle, swinging hats or fans and it can easily be improvised so that practically anyone can join in. Since this was held at the convalescent home some of the residents were being pushed around in their wheelchairs as they moved their hands to the music.

Other volunteer groups performed for the enjoyment of the residents and the local elementary school dance group did some wild, fast moving dances complete with very colorful knee length happi coats. The costumes were eye catching and the residents enjoyed clapping and keeping time with the music. I bet the kids put in a lot of practice hours and their dancing was appreciated by all.

Festivals are really the only time one sees people in kimono anymore in Japan and these are all summer kimonos called yukata which are made of cotton. They are minus all the under layers and extra ties and nowadays one can even strap on a pre-made bow to the belt part (called an obi). This eliminates the need to learn how to tie a person into a yukata which is always a deterrent for wanting to wear one. Look at this little obaachan (grandma) out there "dancing" in her yukata with a paper flower in her hair. She's got her cane to steady her but she's swinging that little straw hat along with the music and she's dressed to party!

Can you guess what this is? Probably not since even my son couldn't figure it out from my "artistic" photo and he knows the culture. This is a glass bead inside a soft drink bottle. The drink is called Ramune and it is very similar to Seven Up. I've read that the bottle inventor was English and he patented the bottle in the 1870's. In the bottling process, the soda pushes the glass bead to the rim of the bottle sealing it and keeping the fizz in. Then before drinking the bead is pushed back down into the bottle but the bottle neck is indented to keep the bead from getting stuck in the rim again. It is an all time favorite summer drink in Japan and only sold during festivals.

And here is a picture of some water yo-yos ready for children to win. For a hundred yen the children get to "fish" for yo-yos from a wading pool filled with water. The catch is that the hook is made of paper and the child must pull the rubber band up from the pool to win the yo-yo. I'm wondering if we have water yo-yos and Ramune in other countries. I don't remember them at all but they are musts at a Japanese festival.

Toward the end of the evening there was a round of fireworks, some shot off into the sky, most crackling and spitting near the center stage. And for a finale all the children and convalescent home residents got to play with sparklers. This is my favorite picture of the night. Look at all these obaachans enjoying their sparklers! I could imagine them reminiscing about their childhood summers when they skipped to music, admired each other in yukata and watched the night through the glittering firework smoke.


Amanda said...

What a wonderful day everyone must have had. And great that so many members of the community could get together. We don't have many festivals here, but school children sometimes go to nursing homes at Christmas to sing carols and perform little plays and dances. I remember lemonade in those glass bottles when I was young, but they're not around any longer - here the bottles are now collector's pieces. I've never seen water yo-yos, how do they work? Great photos of the old folk dancing and playing with their sparklers.

Mrs. Goodneedle said...

How fun and festive! I am amazed at the work involved in that bottled drink. Wow! Your photos are wonderful, I am sure that this is a highly anticipated (and long remembered) event for the elders who attended!

The Calico Cat said...

Do they do the belly button "festival" in your area? I caught the tail end of the story on BBC America - I am pretty sure that they do it in Tokyo... All those painted bellies.

dot said...

This looks like a fun time. The bottle is very interesting.

artfilstitch said...

I bet everyone had a fun day. The yo' yo's, lanterns and bottles look so festive. I have never seen the beads in the bottle drink..very interesting. Oh, the dancing and especially the elderly had some groovy moves :>)

Katie said...

That looks like lots of fun for everyone!

Shelina said...

The guest kids had that balloon fishing at the party at the school. Sasha was really impressed with those bottles, and either brought some home with her from Japan, or got some at a market here. I think it is a wonderful concept.