Anatomy of the Small Town Festival

October 24th, 2007 by Steph

One really great way to see your neighborhood with new eyes is to join a group which performs in your community. In this way, you get an insider’s view into all of the weird, wonderful little events that make a neighborhood a neighborhood. This is especially an eye-opener for someone living in a small town in a foreign country who has yet to master the language: namely, me.

I know this because in the past two months, I’ve joined two performing groups in rapid succession: a taiko drumming group, mostly full of women, incidentally, and a yosakoi group. Despite the fact that I have only been to a few rehearsals, and thus am hardly ready to display my skills for an audience, I have already performed at:

  • someone’s school reunion at an onsen
  • a soup festival in a forest
  • a marathon with 4k, 10k, and 20k options, but no actual 42k course

The marathon was a particularly lush microcosm of small town life in Japan. The day before the actual running, pre-marathon activities put everyone in a festive mood. Opening ceremonies included mochi pounding where audience members, and especially little kids, were invited up to take a few swings.

Kid Mochi

Passers by were given free samples of the fresh mochi, with sweetened edamame powder on top. Delicious!

Because this is northern Akita where we are surrounded by trees and our mascot is a cedar, mochi pounding was inevitably followed by a log-sawing contest. To my surprise, this display also involved elementary school kids, who tried valiantly with saw in hand to compete against adult contestants. The winner of this contest was awarded (I kid you not) a brand new roll of Saran Wrap.

Sawing Competition

After the stage events came to a close, you could turn your attention to the rest of the gym, which was set up kind of like an expensive swap meet. Available for perusal were heaters, shoes, expansive tables of wood products, and blindingly-patterned obaasan clothes. My favorite juxtaposition was the corner of the gym where you could simultaneously browse the shrines and try out a new set of golf clubs. Outside more booths were set up, where you could sample local specialities, like skewered fish and rice sticks covered in miso.

After such excitement, the actual marathon day was pretty mellow. Not big runners ourselves, Chris and I went out to support our friends in the race. I was amazed at the distribution of runners… it seemed like the entire town, young and old, fit and not, came out to run. In America, events like this seem to be specialized, geared towards athletes. The sports events I’ve observed in Japan seem to be more about fun and participation, while still providing an arena for serious athletes to shine.

Another charming facet of the race was the “pair” event, which was a 4k that you run with a partner. These runners consisted mostly of super cute family pairings of a parent and child, spiritedly shuffling along together. Bringing up the rear were a few marathon clowns who seemed more interested in making balloon animals than making any kind of progress in the race. I was also surprised to discover that I recognized more than a few runners. It seemed like my entire yosakoi team ran past, including the grannies. I saw my students. I saw a local chef. Cheering for everyone as they ran past, I felt at home in this little town, in this backwater ken, surrounded by this small town craziness.

2 Responses to “Anatomy of the Small Town Festival”

  1. Papa Says:

    Hi Steph, Chris,
    It all sounds very charming and far removed from the concrete, steel, and glass of my world. It reminds me somewhat of growing up in NCH where the events were simple but lots of fun.

    Hope all is going well.

    Send me a photo of your pumpkin. I would like to see what skills you’ve developed in that arena.

    Love, Papa

  2. mom Says:

    What does the symbol of a piece of film with a broken corner mean? It seems to mean that the video cannot play. Anyway, the story was very cute.

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