This year just as schedules and roles were being reconfirmed and the roster was in production the Tohoku Earthquake happened.
What to do, what to do? Festivals left and right were being down-sized as a mark of respect. The Nagano marathon (an Olympic qualifying event) was cancelled outright. The community elders held an emergency meeting and decidedon the shape of this year’s festival: cancelling it outright was not an option due to the religious component and the blessing of this year’s harvest was not something people wanted to do without. But the usual raucous alcohol fuelled debauchery seemed rather disrespectful in the circumstances. The dancing outside the community centre where a young man serenades the Chinese lion would stay. Instead of a cacophonous parade to the Shrine the portable shrine would be carried by kei-truckto the shrinewhere it would be blessed and return quietly to the neighborhood. The child dancers would not participate. The flautists and taiko drummers would not participate. Oh and it would be an alcohol free event. I was highly skeptical about this last aspect as the men around here don’t seem to do much at all without toasting themselves afterwards.
So an unannounced-by-flag festival evening arrived and it was a bitterly cold one. The wind had lessened but was still biting. The flag near the road was raised as it wouldn’t hit anything if it swung around. The one near the community centre was left furled as its sandbag would hit the neighbouring house. Thirty minutes before the festival the second flag was raised. Almost. It got stuck on the flagpole going up. Cue an army of old farmers in work wear manouvering kei-trucks and long wooden poles to poke and heave and prod the flag up the pole and with minutes to spare we had two flags up.
The lion danced, the young men serenaded. Well, not so young men. The courtship dance is supposed to be danced by the local high school boys. Only this year we don’t have any. So it was an alumni dance. The important men of the neighbourhood encircled the dancers with their lanterns- forethought and over-preparedness meant that even when candles disappeared from the shelves after the earthquake we were fine as our neighbourhood shops a year in advance- and a scraggly crowd of die-hard festival observers rugged up and braved the conditions to watch the dancers. The combination of the weather and the downsized festivities kept people at home in droves.
The first graders who didn’t play the flute and taiko this year will get their chance next year, even combined with next year’s cohort they won’t fill all the places on the float. We will have three high school boys next year, too. The festival flags will be replaced-at great expense- with new ones, candles are back on the shelves and have already been purchased and there is a massive alcohol budget surplus that will be carried forward to next year’s festivities so in the end the downsizing was more like a postponement. I just hope it doesn’t equate a downsizing or postponing of this years crops!