Saturday, July 9, 2011

Help from an Obaasan on a Motorbike


A Summer Festival
Yesterday was about every reason I love Japan and every reason why I want to go home. It was the Omachi Matsuri as I call the portable shrine procession for the neighborhood children. Kendo Mama obtained the happi coats for the Mule and Moose, telling us, "Wear tennis shoes and be at the shrine at exactly 1:35 p.m." Not wanting to leave too early, we headed out with just enough time. We immediately encountered six other neighborhood children so I knew we had left at the right moment.


An Old Woman Interrupts
Suddenly an obaasan old woman, on a motorbike (I am not making this stuff up) pulled up and stopped us just as we were beginning to thread around the corner to the left. She countermanded my instructions to the children to go left, telling us to go to the right. The children, all Japanese speakers, looked at me and then complied with her instructions and began going to the right.

With only seven minutes to get to the shrine, I protested, and the children politely translated for my benefit, "The obaasan said we need to go this way (pointing right) to meet up with the mikoshi." I wasn't sure what the obaasan meant, but it was not where the kids' mikoshi portable shrine was. My husband said, "We can get there either way," so I trudged after the kids steaming with frustration about the wrong direction, my inability to speak Japanese, and stewing about being late. Here is what we saw:
Tengu
Gion Mikoshi
A Procession
I immediately realized that the obaasan was well-meaning. She had redirected us around so that we would see the Kamakura Gion Omachi Matsuri Owatari mikoshi tour that was just entering into our neighborhood. As soon as we cleared the procession, I sent the the kids running. Of course, we made it, but you have to appreciate timeliness in Japan- the trains run on time, things start on time, and so the pressure to be punctual has a consequence. My fear of the kids missing their mikoshi procession was for naught, but both the thrill of finding Tengu coming around the corner and my frustration with not being able to speak Japanese collided.

Kids carrying the portable shrine
Shrine Shaking
The kids did a great job of carrying the mikoshi. It was a hot, humid, and sunny day, but with lessons learned from year's past we were super hydrated, had sweat towels, and in my case a parasol. The kids did a bit of mikoshiburi or mikoshi shaking- a kind of dance with the mikoshi- at the rest home for the elderly as their grand finale. I remember the first year we went to the rest home, four years ago, I was shocked to realize such a big rest home was so near our house as I had not noticed it. We are packed like sardines into our neighborhood so surprises await around every corner.

The Elderly Audience
The Performance- mikoshiburi
Love the cultural clash

Dressed for a Matsuri
After showers and dinner, we headed out for the matsuri festival and mikoshiburi. I don't have any pictures of myself in my fancy yukata, but there is one that I particularly like taken just after the kid's mikoshi finished. It is of a neighbor and me talking. I got a few of the Mule and Moose in their yukatas and even some of Dada in his happi coat and handako white short pants as he was dressed for the main event that evening.


When he got home later that night he told me, "You were the toast of the evening when they found out you wrote the English translation for the website. You looked really good in your yukata too! I was Kim-san's husband tonight!" It probably didn't hurt that they were all drinking sake to celebrate the end of the matsuri event.

I still want to go home, but I do love the richness of our experiences here which are so unlike those at home. Besides, we are part of it all here too even if I can't speak Japanese- thanks to all of our friends (and even the obaasan on her motorbike) who help us.