Several weeks ago I noticed that colourful posters had appeared on fences around our neighbourhood but, of course, they were in Japanese so I had no idea what they were advertising. They were all the same and the drawings included strings of lanterns and little characters in traditional dress who appeared to be dancing. I was able to determine that something was happening on July 26 and 27 and when I considered where the posters were located, I wondered if whatever they were advertising might be occurring at the nearby elementary school.
A little while after the posters appeared, we received a photocopied flier in our mailbox with the same drawings on it. I took it to one of the ladies meetings at the church and asked my friend, Yoko, to translate it for me. She told me that there would be a summer festival in our neighbourhood this weekend and confirmed that it would be happening on the school grounds. The flier included a coupon for a free gift and also promised the first 300 people a free insect, a popular pet amongst Japanese children! It also explained that anyone who wanted an insect would be required to bring an appropriate container to take it home in. The flier also included the information that traditional dancers were needed for the festival and gave a deadline for registering. We immediately decided that the event was something we’d want to check out when the time came and marked it on the calendar.
As I walked home from work early yesterday evening, it was clear that the festival was underway. I could hear the music and when I looked down the street that leads to the school, I could see brightly lit lanterns strung above the entrance to the school ground. We decided to head over there before making supper to see what was going on.
It was definitely a happening place. Crowds of people were milling around, many dressed in yukata (summer kimono). The grounds were brightly lit by strings of lanterns and a stage had been set up in the centre. On the stage and in a circle in front of it, dancers moved to the rhythmic music and the throb of the drums which were located both on a platform high above the stage and on the ground in front of it. Groups of dancers in matching costumes clearly knew the precise steps of the dances while young children joined those on the ground and did their best to imitate them.
Around the perimeter of the school ground, booths had been set up to sell various snacks as well as glow in the dark toys to appeal to the children. We enjoyed some tasty pork pieces grilled on wooden skewers. The people who sold them to us were clearly delighted by the presence of Eigo (English) customers and called out “good bye” and “good night” as we moved on.
After we returned from church this afternoon, we decided to head down to the school ground again to see it in daylight. Though the recorded music was playing, the drumming and dancing hadn’t started yet. There were lots of people, however, and we milled around amongst them enjoying a few more snacks. It was oppressively hot and humid and we weren’t surprised when thunder began to roll and lightning flashed. Suddenly the skies opened! Rain began to pour down and everyone ran for shelter. Our first summer storm in Japan! We took cover with many other people near the entrance to the school and waited for the rain to subside a bit before heading for home. Though we only had a few blocks to go, the skies opened again and we were drenched to the skin before we arrived!
Fortunately, the storm blew on by and awhile ago I could hear the drums throbbing in the distance so the festival was clearly underway again. I’m glad as people had obviously gone to a lot of work to set it up and it would have been such a disappointment if the weather had shut it down early.
Just in case you’re wondering… no, we didn’t come home with an insect. We did turn in our coupon though and our prize was a package of garbage bags!