Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Matsuri New York

Downtown Tokyo?

Osaka in the summer?

Nope. This past weekend, I went to a small matsuri right here in New York city. It was part of the Howl Festival, which takes place in the Lower East Side of the Manhattan.

Matsuri are another one of those things which are quintessentially Japanese, and difficult to experience anywhere else. Whenever I talk to friends and family in Japan about matsuri, they invariably say the same thing: "Matsuri are the true Japan." I've written a few short stories where matsuri play a huge role; I've always loved them and usually try to find a matsuri to attend when I am in Japan.

The summer is also the peak season for matsuri in Japan, though there are some spectacular ones (scroll down) which occur in the darker times of the year. Because I spent so much time in Japan as a kid, I become very nostalgic for matsuri come summer. Most Japanese festivals in the States are more like cultural celebrations, and don't have the little details that you can experience in Japan, so it was such a pleasure to see so many people working together to try to create an authentic experience here in New York.

I loved seeing girls in yukatas. They were enormously popular this year in Japan, and the trend carried over to New York, where young families had also dressed up their children.

I saw some kids wandering around carrying little bags of goldfish, which is very, very traditional. I even put a goldfish scooping scene in one of my short stories. I didn't manage to get a picture of the fish, but I did spot this little pool with a child receiving a small water balloon, also very traditional.

Plastic masks are a must at any true matsuri. Note the Japanese and American cartoon characters embodied below!

There were also a few non-traditional elements, like this craft table where kids learned origami. This really moved me -- I always like to see that someone has thought of things to entertain and educate kids at the same time.

And then there was the mikoshi!

The matsuri participants gamely paraded around this small version of mikoshi, and they certainly went at it with enthusiasm and energy.

Gordon and I ran into a mikoshi at the Gion matsuri earlier this summer, and were nearly knocked over by the wave of people whirling around in a circle.

Fortunately, we were standing behind a row of trees, and were able to avoid most of the danger, but you can see how scaled up these kinds of events become in Japan.

Now that the summer is ending, I'm trying to turn my attention to other seasonal things -- moon viewing, cooking with mushrooms and no more air-conditioning!

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