Thursday, 1 August 2013

Morioka Sansa

Date: Thursday 1st August 2013

MP3 track of the day: Why does it always rain on me – Travis

Weather: rain, rain and more rain; until the festival was over and then it stopped … naturally.

My 2013 summer holiday started in a very relaxed way. No early buses to catch, no stressful sprints to the airport terminal and no foreign salesmen asking me if I would to purchase a penguin. This year I slept in until 10:30am, moped around my apartment until 1:45pm before finally setting off towards my prefecture's capital city, Morioka, for it's annual summer festival.

Well the above isn't completely true. Before setting off I stopped to pick up my good friend Francis, who would be accompanying me, for the festival, before heading south to Tokyo. I picked up Francis and, at precisely 2:08pm, off we went in a westerly direction towards Morioka.

The drive was the same as usual; route '106' (which connects my town to Morioka) meanders through a tight valley following the Hei River. The scenery was as beautiful as usual, the road had someone driving 15km below the speed limit as usual and Francis fell asleep as usual. All-in-all the drive wasn't anything to write home about; the only thing which was different was that it rained continually throughout our journey.

We arrived in Morioka at around 4pm. I thought, arriving three hours before the Sansa Festival started, would have meant that I would have beaten the crowds and parking wouldn't have been a problem. I was wrong. The first two car parks I found were full; the 3rd had spaces, was reasonably cheap but a little further out of town than I would have liked. Due to having ample time, but little cash, 'reasonably cheap' took priority over 'a little further out of town than I would have liked' and so I docked into one of only a handful of spaces left, on the top floor of the car park.

With the engine switched off I jumped out of the car to find that it was still raining. Throughout the whole day it had rained however, the severity of rain had changed constantly. To quote Peter Kay, at 4:10pm I would say that 'it was spitting'. Annoyingly I hadn't planned for rain. I'd remembered Morioka's 2012 summer temperatures and dressed accordingly in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. The only comfort I received from my 'wardrobe cock-up' was that, currently, it was just about hot enough for the rain to dry as soon as it landed on me; oh and that Francis had made the same error.

We headed into town and dived under the first bit of cover we found. Fortunately, under this 'footpath with a roof', we found a man giving out free 'Sansa programmes' which included a few excellent photos of Sansa 2012, a tiny bit of useful information, a terrible map of where the parade will take place and bucket loads of adverts ranging from hotels, to restaurants to that guy trying to sell a penguin. Nevertheless, it was within this booklet of adverts that we discovered something crucial; the parade started at 6pm, not 7pm. This meant that I had arrived two hours before the event and not three, which explained the mystery of why all the parking was occupied so early into the day. This also meant that Francis and my 'dinner date' had to be brought forward an hour so that we did not miss the festival.

Choosing something to eat is always difficult when there is more than one of you. The annoying phase 'I don't mind' which, I am sure, was created by the devil himself, surfaced numerous times and so therefore we decided to walk around until something grabbed our attention. Little did I know but, right at that point in time, God intervened and washed away, quite literally, the devil's evil phases by increasing the rain to 'it's time to go inside' level. At this point both Francis and I were in an area without any cover and so a harmless looking Italian restaurant started to become more and more appealing.

Once inside I realised, quite quickly, that 'harmless' wasn't quite the correct word to describe it. For an average amount of money, I got a less than averaged sized spaghetti. I ate it greedy and, still feeling a little hungry afterwards, we stopped at Mr Donuts for … err … some doughnuts.

The festival hadn't even begun but, as we devoured our dessert, we saw a strange sight which, thinking back, was never eclipsed throughout the entire festival. As I was finishing my 'banana doughnut' a Japanese man dressed in a zebra skin-tight body suite, with a keg of beer attached to his back posed in front of us for a photo. At the time he was also smoking a cigarette and he had glasses on which flashed all the colours of the rainbow. It was indeed a strange sight but, weirdly, I didn't feel alarmed and I just accepted it as the 'norm'.

It was getting close to the start of the parade. The rain was still coming down and, looking up towards the sky, it seemed as though it would continue raining all night. As we followed the crowds east, back towards our car and out of the shopping area, I did thinking about buying an umbrella however my hatred for the thing, plus the cost, teamed up against my 'logical self' and won. I therefore found myself heading to a watch a festival in a wet t-shirt with no possibility of cover.

Little did we know but we had followed the crowds to where the parade started from. This, quite naturally, was packed with both performers and spectators a like. My hatred for the umbrella grew when I discovered just how much of your 'line of sight' is removed when a wall of umbrellas are positioned in front of you. We made a unanimous, and quick decision to head further down the parade street in search of a 'good spot'.

Due to the crowds of spectators moving this way and that (probably with the same goal as us) we moved in time with the front of the procession. We finally found an excellent viewing spot with, sadly, little cover. The only spectators between us and the procession were sat down in temporary made shelters which only came to 'waist height'. With the beat of hundreds of drums we knew that the parade was on it's way.

Sansa is a dance which originates from Iwate (this Japanese prefecture). Most prefecture summer festivals cling onto something local and famous, and bleed it dry. The Sansa festival was no exception. Thousands (and I do mean thousands) of people paraded the streets in individual bocks made up of around one hundred people. Each block followed a similar layout with a sponsorship banner at the front, a few 'randoms' dancing enthusiastically behind and the main 'block' of people (lined up in a 8 x 10 grid) forming the rear. This man block was split into three parts with the drummers at the front, followed by the flutes who were followed by the dancers. Due to the rain the drummers had plastic bags wrapped over the drums to protect them. As the 'drummers drum' is attached to their stomach area, it allows them to dance as well as play and the whole group moves in harmony (unless little children are present).It was great to watch however, after the seventh group (I think there must have been at least twenty groups) things did start to get very similar. In the end my enjoyment for the festival moved from the dancing and onto the sight of seeing so many people moving 'as one', the constant beat of the drums and the individual groups clothing. Each group was wearing different coloured 'yukata's' (a kind of kimono) and, as the group danced as one, the colours and patterns almost came alive. My favourite yukata's were the ones which were the same pattern three-quarters of the way around and then, on their right side, was a totally different colour. This meant that when the group turned sideways the whole colour of the group changed for a split second.

The rain was starting to fall even harder yet Francis and I remained where we were and didn't run for cover. Personally I had two reasons for this. Firstly I only plan on seeing this festival once therefore, I want to see it all. Secondly the performers kept on coming; they all had smiles on their faces and were determined to have a good time. I decided that if they can keep going, so can I. It was in these moments of torrential down pour that I wondered if the performers actually preferred rain to baking summer temperatures. Either way they are going to get wet and, personally, I would prefer it to be rain rather than sweat. Also, if the weather had been fine, I reckon Francis and I wouldn't have had such a commanding view. The only annoying thing was that, occasionally, people with umbrellas would stop behind me and watch the parade. Their umbrella would prevent rain hitting them however, the water would drip off the edge of the umbrella and onto my back. Three times a whole torrent of water rushed down my back when a person, with an umbrella, tipped it unintentionally as they readied their camera.

At 8:30pm the final group danced past us. Francis wanted to see where the parade ended and so we headed off. It was on this walk that, now with the air flowing past me, I realised just how wet and cold I was. Luckily I had my P.E. Kit (for school) within the car so, once back, I could get changed into something dry.

It didn't take too long to find the end of the parade and, strangely, there wasn't anything there. The lanterns, which lit the parade street, sort of ended. Afterwards darkness consumed the street making it rather uninviting.

Thoroughly soaked Francis and I marched back towards the car stopping at a temporary food outlet. The rain, naturally, had stopped so Francis purchased a couple of 'Japanese festival food products' before we continued back on our journey. Once at the car I got changed and, once finished, Francis did the same.

I knew that the weather had put a lot of people off attending the festival however, there must have been about 3,000 performers and at least double that watching. I was therefore expecting traffic chaos (and I had to get Francis to the 'southern bus station' for his night-bus to Tokyo) however the streets were silent; I didn't have to queue to get out of the car park and I could even choose which ticket barrier I wanted to exit from. As I made it onto the main street I drove my normal speed without hindrance from any other vehicle. I would even go as far to say that it was even quieter than normal.

As I drove towards the southern bus station an empty road, plus a line of green traffic lights, greeted me which resulted in us being two hours early for his bus. Due to this, and the fact that I was a little hungry, we popped into a local McDonald’s to reflect on the days performance. With an hour to spare I dropped Francis off at the bus station and made my way home.

Due to the darkness the journey was even less interesting than the one coming here. I did, however, make excellent time and even though I left at 10:38pm, I found myself entering my apartment at … a very reasonable time (I can't write the exact time just incase the police are reading this and they do a 'average speed' calculation). Once home I put stuff away, put my wet clothes out for washing and went to bed as quickly as possible. Tomorrow I will be at home but the day after (Saturday 3rd August) I am off to Akita for another festival.

It won't be long before another update.

Toodle Pip!

No comments:

Post a Comment