Thursday, February 16, 2012

Japanese Festivals

Every year, there are a variety of fascinating festivals held in different cities throughout Japan. Some of the most famous festivals are the Sapporo Snow Festival, the Naked Festival, and the countless flower-viewing festivals held in spring. Near my home, there are festivals such as the Torch Festival and the Daruma Festival. It would be impossible to list them all. I guess the best way I can explain them is by comparing them to state fairs in America. There are certain staples you are bound to see at all of the festivals, and I'd like to take this opportunity to list some of them.

1. Food
All of the best food comes out during festivals. I had fried chicken, pizza in a pita, and octopus last time I went to one of these events. In addition, you can often find crepes, candy floss, grilled corn, rice cakes, shish kebab, all sorts of sweets, "whatever you like" pancakes, and so on. The food is cheap, delicious, and plentiful. You will see dozens of stalls serving the same type of food because everyone likes to snack on something while they sight-see.

2. Masks
I see these cheap plastic masks at every festival I attend. They always resemble famous cartoon characters that children would recognize. I believe said children are the main customers, since I would never pay $10 for something of such questionable quality. They are not meant to be worn over the face, but on the side of the head, in the same way a "cool" person might turn his baseball cap sideways.

3. Game Stands
These are stalls featuring pop culture products that children can try to win by playing games similar to the "ring toss" type of games American children play. One such game is goldfish scooping, when children try to catch goldfish in a net made of paper. The goal is to catch as many fish as possible while making sure the water doesn't dissolve the paper net.

4. Shrines and Temples
Usually festivals take place around a temple, or a shrine is the center of the festival proceedings. Even if this is not the case, the festivals tend to have a spiritual theme. The Daruma Festival's theme was "good luck for the new year," among other things. Omiya Festival, in Tokyo, focused on companies creating beautiful bouquets to sell.

While the festivals are usually fun, they suffer from overcrowding in Japan's narrow streets, and seeing the same types of stalls every time grows repetitive. I can speed-walk through festivals pretty fast these days, because once the exoticism wears off you realize there's not much to actually do at these things besides eat food and talk to your friends. Still, it is an intrinsic part of Japanese culture.

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