I had promised myself that the first opportunity to attend a Japanese festival that presented itself, I would go. Thankfully a fellow ALT in Soma City, Fukushima-ken posted a note about the Rokkon-sai festival in Fukushima City.
Rokkon-sai is a celebration of the 6 different prefectures that make up the Tōhokū region of Japan; Aomori, Yamagata, Iwate, Fukushima, Akita and Miyagi where I currently reside. Rokkon-sai acts a preview for each of the 6 prefectures own festivals. For instance, the Aomori prefecture has a festival called, Aomori Nebuta, with lots of cool floats in a parade, great food and special costumes for the occasion.
Getting to Fukushima city was a bit difficult. Because of the long distance from Iwanuma to Fukushima city we didn’t want to be held hostage to a train deadline. We enlisted a different ALT (Chris) who has a car to see if he wanted to go. Lucky for Shana and I he is an awesome dude and said he would drive down there.
After a brief stop at 7/11 for cash, the best corn dogs in the world and some snacks for later, we hit the road at about 8:30 AM. While the weather in Miyagi was pretty crappy, we headed south, made decent time and got to the simply overcast but not rainy Fukushima prefecture in good time. Once we got to the outskirts of Fukushima city we ran into a bit of a problem. There were volunteers posted a long the highway in bright orange shirts directing traffic for the festival. They just happened to be directing it in a completely different way than Chris’ previous map research had told him. Then there was the equally frustrating fact that the Rokkon-sai Orange Shirts were incredibly far apart. They would have a sign that said turn right here and then another orange shirt wouldn’t be seen for several kilometers. By following the orange be-shirted fellows we became severely “lost.” I don’t mean that we didn’t know how to get home or that we couldn’t find our way back but I mean that we had no idea where the festival was being held in relation to where the men with orange shirts were directing us.
Finally in Fukushima city proper, Chris decided to just look for city hall signs and we found a parking lot near the train station. If we had taken our original route I’m sure we would have arrived a solid 40 to 60 minutes earlier than we did. Either way the arrival time was spilled milk and we still had the better part of the day to explore the festival and see what all the fuss was about.
We were able to meet up our friend Joey who as luck would have it had a “press” pass that got us through a barricade to the far side of the parade route without having to walk all the way around. Although where we ended up standing was not ideal in a “wow these are really comfortable seats to watch the parade from” kind of way; we did get to see the parade from up close and I doubt we would have been able to see much if we hadn’t have had Joey’s help. Part of the problem was that there was a small army of elderly Japanese women who can kneel on concrete comfortably for several hours at a time and I can’t. Not to mention only some of the people at the front wanted to squat or kneel and the ones who didn’t weren’t in front of the old ladies like I was. Shana and I eventually gave up our spots to the elderly folks behind us and felt like standing in the back was a better solution. I found a ledge with which I could climb on every now and then to take pictures as long as the parade steward wasn’t looking directly at me.
The parade was a short and an interesting mix of traditional Japanese and popular culture elements. There was traditional fan dancing and floats as well as hip hop dancers and beauty queens. It was a short parade because (and this is only my assumption) parades stop being fun after about 30 min especially after you have waited for about 2 hours squatting or standing in the same spot. We were excited to let the real fun start with food and beverage consumption.
We started walking towards the Fukushima City horse racing track to see what sort of event stuff was set up there but alas there was not much but some food tents and Momo-rin the Fukushima-City mascot. Momo-rin and his?/hers? mascot brethren will be the subject of a different post. Momo-rin is a reference to the peaches that ripen while there is still snow on the ground in the mountains that surround Fukushima City. However, a person with a terrible understanding of idiomatic Japanese could interpret Momo-rin as “phosphorous thigh,” “peach thigh,” and “sexually appealing phosphorous.” Momo-rin is a large bunny in a red vest with a yellow bow-tie and none of those things.
Making several stops along the way at different food stands We tried some fried chicken, a hot dog in an egg roll, a Korean spicy beef on rice (yakiniku gohan) and some micro brewed beer from Fukushima-ken aptly named, “We Love Beer.” They had a dunkel, a weisse and a peach beer. There was a cool Taikō drumming presentation that we watched for a bit. Mostly we just soaked up a happy crowd. Along the street there were many people taking advantage of the crowds and setting up popsicle stands, fried rice stalls and street performers shilling for an audience. One such street act was a sad robot that was doing “the robot” to slow and sad music. One of the more odd things I’ve come across. Despite its oddness the robot had drawn quite a crowd.
We also crossed off the list another city in which Shana and I have been accosted by elderly drunk Japanese people. Confrontation is definitely a rarity in Japanese culture but our non-Japaneseyness seems to encourage the inquisitively wasted. In this particular encounter an old man asked us where we were from and told Shana she was beautiful. Then he proceeded to a demand answers on what life was really about…in Japanese. The only reason I know this is because Chris speaks Japanese and was very weirded out by how deep the man getting during a random street festival encounter. Unsatisfied with our answers the man politely wandered in the other direction in search of the meaning of life or maybe an unoccupied restaurant booth to sleep in.
Back at the train station we needed to get to the other side of tracks to get to the parking lot but due to festival traffic we had to basically cover the entire distance of the train station and then double back to where the car was. Not the most convenient route ever but it did give us an opportunity to tease Chris about Mister Donuts, his one weakness. Back at the car and filled with food and drink we settled in for an uneventful ride back to Iwanuma. We did spot a CoCo’s. That was kind of an event… Until the next festival.