July 25, 2001


Right now I'm feeling: Worn out from the festival!!

Right now I'm listening to: Utada Hikaru

Utada Hikaru -- Deep River  

Tenjin Matsuri

Today was Tenjin Matsuri, one of the largest festivals in Japan. Fortunately for me, it is only a one-hour train ride from my humble little mountain town of Wakayama in the bustling metropolitan city of Osaka. I hate big cities, but I love going to Osaka. Osaka has the cliche foreign flavor, that enormous sense of walking anonymity, the fast-moving throngs of people and the small shops and delicacy stands that I love in Japan.

A couple friends of mine, Machiko and her boyfriend, Shin, live there. They had to work during the day, but they promised to meet me later in the day, wearing yukata and all, to share a shaved ice, watch the fireworks and the end of the festival from the banks of the Dojima River.

The past couple weeks have been so chaotic.. saying goodbye to old friends, packing up all my stuff, trying to clean my apartment, but I've still been really looking forward to this festival. I don't know why I didn't see it last year. I'll give a brief synopsis here, but if you want to know all the details, you should go here. There are a lot more photos and a brief background.

I flew solo on this festival because Lesa and Glen flew back to the US just a few days ago, A's off abroad in England, and Kristy and O-chan went for their Indian tour about a week ago. New ALTs are coming in soon, some are in Tokyo right now, but my own successor is due to arrive August 1st or so. The festival is in two main parts, a procession down to the river from Temmangu Shrine and then hundreds of boats and barges are boarded and sent down the river as fireworks go off overheard.

As soon as I arrived in Osaka I found information on the festival at the information center, and made my way to Temmangu Shrine where the festival was due to start. I got there early in the morning and most people were still getting ready, putting the finishing touches on their costumes and preparing the shrines and mikoshi for the big procession down to the river.

The costumes were so colorful! Thousands of people of all different ages were in line for this procession carrying banners, mikoshi, colorful boxes, flags... This was easily the largest festival I saw in procession in Japan. I've heard that Gion Matsuri in Kyoto is larger than this one, but I went the day before the main events: my friends said the crowds were just toooo huge! She was probably right, the crowds the day before that event were pretty bad. There were a lot of people for this one, but they were all spread across the parade route and in the buildings to watch so congestion wasn't horrible.

At the beginning of the festival there was a lot of activity at the shrine! Drums, music, dances, and rituals meant to appease and ask blessings from the gods. Once the parade started it was hard to keep ahead of it! Sooo many people on the sidewalks and the streets were all cordoned off. But with some effort, I was able to get some decent shots of the major features of the parade.

The participants weren't as drunk as Hounen Matsuri, and the procession wasn't as fast as Danjiri Matsuri, but it was larger in scope and grander than either of them. The dancers were enthusiastic, singing and chanting in unison, some groups went by almost quietly, priests throwing salt.. at the tail end of the procession were the golden mikoshi. Lifted high by hundreds of men, they made their way slowly through the town to the Dojima River. The crews were driven by a single man who stood on top of the mikoshi, yelling and blowing a whistle at the men and directing them with a small rod. It was great! I'm so glad I saw this festival!!

The river was FILLED with barges and boats. Tens of thousands of people lined up to board the boats and towards nightfall were sent down the river. I heard that on the boats there is traditional Japanese entertainment like old music, court dances, and traditional theatre.

The fireworks display was large, but low below Osaka's towering skyline. This was probably to minimize the fallout area, but my friends and I (and the other thousands of spectators) had to race through the city to try and find a good vantage point! We finally found one and as the fireworks died down it was like a dream was dying in my heart... it was the last time I would ever see something so spectacular like this in Japan. I'm going to miss this place and when I leave.. a part of my spirit will always stay here.

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