Summer is a wonderful time in Japan. True, it’s hot and humid, but the beer is cold and there are summer festivals to enjoy. Here in Rakurakuen, half way between Hiroshima City and the island of Miyajima, we are blessed with summer festivals on four consecutive weekends.
This year we began with the Shioya shrine festival on Saturday 16th July. Then there was the Rakurakuen Street festival on Saturday 23rd and Saturday 28th July. Then, on Saturday 6th August there was what I call the “Madam Joy Festival” – a small “Bon Odori” festival that takes place in the car park behind our local “Madam Joy” supermarket.
Saturday 23rd July
At the Rakurakuen Street festival the shopkeepers put stalls outside their shops and sell food and drinks or set up games for the kids. Halfway up the street the road is cordoned off for a dance show.
The routine typically starts off with children from a modern dance group. The children are aged between 4 and 17. They are mostly girls, but their best dancer is a 14 year old boy who I saw dancing in both the 2010 and 2011 festivals. There must be about fifty members of the group and they are divided, usually by age, into dance routines consisting of between 5 to 15 or so members. Each dance requires a different costume and so the dancers occupy one of the side streets and use it as their backstage area.
After the dancing is over, a “taiko” drumming group performs and finally an “oyaji bando” (old geezers’ or Dads’ band) wraps up the show.
This year, the oyaji bando was just getting into the swing of things when one of the taiko drummers spontaneously joined in, followed by the other drummers.
I wasn’t very well organised this year so we’ll have to make do with a photo of the excellent taiko drummers from the 2010 festival.
At the second Rakurakuen festival there were several stalls selling local produce. In the photo on the right some people are queuing up for some skewered grilled pork that’s being cooked while they wait.
Many of the shops remain open for the duration of the festival.
The next photo shows a stall selling “ayu” or “sweet fish” (sometimes called “Japanese river trout, depending on which dictionary you consult). Ayu are river fish that come into season in the summer. One of the pleasures of summer in Japan is to eat barbequed ayu. In the photo below you can see skewered cooked ayu for sale. The sign board says,
Otagawa no ayu shio yaki
which is to say, being interpreted:
Salted grilled ayu from the Ota River
There is a technique to eating ayu that was probably not observed at the Rakurakuen street festival, where each ayu was probably eaten straight off the skewer… The technique: First soften the body with your chopsticks, then remove its tail. Next, pull off its head, and if you do it right the spine will come right out with the head.
Incidentally, another name for “ayu” is “kogyo” – incense + fish – which is more nearly approximated by the translation “sweet fish”. It is so named because it feeds only on moss and is therefore very clean and free of muddy or fishy odours.
Saturday 6th August
Compared to the two Rakurakuen street festivals, the “Madam Joy” festival is more traditional in style. However, since Rakurakuen did not exist until after the post war land reclamations, I doubt that it can be said that the Rakurakuen festival is “traditional” in the strictest sense of the word. Even so, my Mrs remembers attending this festival as a child, just as our daughter did this year.
Anyway, at this festival a drumming tower is set up and a drummer and either some other “traditional” instrumentalists or a highly traditional amplified recording makes up the rest of the musical contribution to the festival.
Meanwhile, the women, dressed in yukatta dance slowly around the tower and are joined by some of the men from time to time. The dance proceeds with a sort of swaying and ducking motion. In the photo below my daughter (pink yukatta) and her friend (yellow yukatta) are imitating the movements of the lady in the dark blue yukatta.
There’s no festival in Rakurakuen tomorrow, but there is the Miyajima fireworks festival, which can be viewed at a distance from the riverside embankment just down the road from us. Mr Ardle will be in attendance with his tripod and his telephoto lense…