Monday, September 1, 2008

And the Maturis Continue

With every big and little city and town having its own uniquely themed Matsuri nearly every other day of the summer, it’s nearly impossible not to get sucked into the ‘festival fever’.  Every matsuri is completely different, with distinctive themes, yukata, dances, and events.  The Shibata Matsuri, also known as the ‘Shibata Fighting Festival’ was on Friday night.  A matsuri with a name like that, and only a couple of train stops away was without a doubt a MUST-go.  When we got off of the train, a HUGE group of us assembled, and we immediately walked into and through streets filled with matsuri food (okonomiyaki, (egg, cabbage, onion, ham, sause, mayo, carrot pancakes) takoyaki (octopus balls), jyagabata (potatoes toped with MOUNDS of butter and salt), ice cream, sweet bread, etc) and kiddie games (catching goldfish, selling toy guns, masks, brightly colored objects and on and on).   With such a big group of people, all having their own agendas, we almost immediately split into smaller and smaller groups.  All I wanted to do was see some fighting and crazy people battle in the street.  Eventually we made our way over to the combat zone.  At other matsuris, people would carry and pull mikoshi.  In this one, they lifted and slammed them down.  Occasionally they’d pull on the ropes and whip the omikoshi around, flinging the people who held on to the sides and into one another.  Even though I eventually made my way up to the front, I couldn’t see any punches or kicks or people getting injured.  The most I saw was through someone else’s video, somebody walking down the road with a bloody nose.  I guess I set my expectations too high.  Either way, went home with some delicious okonomiyaki and jyagabata in my tummy so I was decently satisfied.

On Saturday night, I made plans to meet some friends in Niigata City, so I decided to go down a little earlier to see my obaachan.  As usual she re-gifted snacks and fruit, given to her by friends and family, and made me take them.  She asked me when I was meeting with friends and I told her 7pm.  She said that was too late and insisted that I make them meet me earlier.  Instead of telling her not to worry over and over again like I usually do, I told her I would, and instead went shopping for the next hour.  Haha, she’s SO funny, I LOVE her!!

That night, while not quite formally matsuri-ing, we had a little matsuri of our own.  Colleen’s friend Martin (who has been in Japan for quite some years) showed us around to the city’s nightlife.  It was rather educational as we learned about a variety of bars in the area.  But of course, when the clock strikes 11:00pm Murakami people have to be on the train, or they’ll turn into steamed pumpkins.  Aki and I ended up having to chug the rest of our beverages and then sprint to the train station in order to make it in time, but we made it WOOT!!!

Sunday morning was the ‘Sekikawa Taishitamonjan Matusuri’ which translates to ‘Sekikawa It’s-a-Big-Deal-Snake Festival’ or as we call it the ‘Sekikawa Giant Snake Festival.’  Apparently there was a big flood in Sekikawa a couple decades ago.  As the story goes, this woman ate something she shouldn’t have, and as a result she turned into a snake and flooded the town.  So the town built this MASSIVE snake, which is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records.  They store it in the city gymnasium and once a year take it out and carry it around town for this matsuri.  As we were waiting for the snake to me marched our way, we watched some taiko drumming, and were even invited on stage to try it out.  I LOVE hitting those taiko drums!!  We walked around to the various food booths and they had sasadango, my favorite thing EVER!!  It’s anko (red bean paste), wrapped in mochi (pounded sticky rice), wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed until it all turns green and delicious.  They were also selling smoked fish on sticks, which looked so crazy, I HAD to have one!!   And FINALLY, it was time for the snake to arrive.  There was a route the people of Sekikawa took around town with the snake on their shoulder.  It was really enormous and intriguing, so after it passed, Katrina and I, being the act-on-impulse people that we are, ran after it.  We kind of got caught up IN the parade and were FINALLY asked (I’m getting so used to be treated like a princes due to our foreign appearances that I was honestly waiting for someone to offer) if we wanted to try carrying it for a little.  Haha, we did and it was semi-heavy, and awesome, and we even got a picture as proof!!

After the parade, Katrina organized Murakami’ ‘welcome party’ barbeque along the beeeeautiful river right by where Amy and Kevin live.  Other people from the area also came out and it was so pretty and relaxing and basically fantastic to be with a good group of people on big rocks, next to a refreshing river, amidst tree-covered-mountains, and under the sun and clear blue skies.  

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