Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Aki Matsuri -- Part Three: The Stops Along the Way

A seven hour walk is a lot shorter than it sounds. At least it is when you're stopping every fifteen to twenty minutes to play music, dance, eat, drink beer or search frantically for a bathroom.

Both Saturday and Sunday everyone met early at the Shrine. The children got their make up done, adjusted their costumes and ran around with their friends. The adults loaded several trucks full of beer, sake, and snacks. Here's a truck being loaded.

The main event is the children doing this: (that's J on the big drum)

They've been going to practices for two months, twice a week to learn to play these instruments/songs and by daggit, by the end of this thing they'll be playing them in their sleep. Heck, by the end of it, I'm playing these songs in my sleep.

As we walk up and down the narrow streets pulling our enormous yatai everyone comes outside to greet us. Invariably someone from each household will slip an envelope into the hand of some dressed-up-happy-dancer and that dressed-up-happy-dancer will deliver it to the guy with the mic. The envelope is filled with money, a little or a lot. Doesn't matter. The fellow with the mic will thank the person. Their name is written on the front.

Some houses do this:

It's kinda difficult to tell but the yatai is coming down the street towards the camera (on the right). On the left is a house where they have set up tables filled with sweets for the kids and salty snacks, beer, and whiskey for the adults. It is getting late in the day and a lot of the men have a nice buzz going. They're very friendly. I was drug into the back and given several cups of whiskey and then had a whoozy old man talk me up about WW2.

So we stop for music, we stop for dance, we stop when a house beckons us or a lady in an apron brings out plates of homemade sushi. And as soon as we stop the guys in the trucks do their jobs. They walk around to all the adults participating or watching and they hand him or her a cup and offer beer or sake. Next comes the guys with the fish cakes or rice crackers. Here's a picture of me as I was watching the little ones dance and was plied with beer.

But don't worry. While the adults are getting beer the kids are getting puddings, ice creams, tea, rice balls, fish cakes and dried squid on sticks. This happens roughly every twenty minutes.

At one point we passed a retirement home. Man, I cried. We have this certain route we gotta walk and because the darned yatai is so big we really can't veer off course. The staff had brought out all the elderly people and line them up, but they were facing the wrong way! So since my job was mostly keeping kids from falling into the river or climbing up fences I ran over and told them where we'd be performing and then helped push a few wheelchairs into a better position.

The residents at the home were so excited about the event that they had made these great big fans with the words Festival (matsuri) on them. Here I talked one woman into posing with one. The cute thing was that they were much too big and heavy for any one to really wave them around.

Here they are clapping along to the song. The lady on the right was really crying. But I think it was happy crying. Or nostalgic crying. At this point I was crying too.

So we stop for music, dance, food, pudding, old people and this! Towards the end of the last day they had a mochi maki and people went wild. Mochi maki is when people toss sticky rice cakes and other goodies out to a crowd. It usually happens at temples/shrines and I heard that out west people do it when they build a new house. Give their new neighbors a reason to like them.

J ended up with a big bag full of treats and me too, actually. By this point I was buddy-buddy with these two old guys. We were sitting on a bench singing, clapping each others' shoulders and hollaring for more beer when they started throwing the goodies. Completely up to the challenge we waded into the crowd and began our own frenzied attempt to collect as many treats as we could. After we had finished for various health reasions they both donated their treats to me.

Not exactly Halloween. But close. Here is some of what we got...