In Japan at the moment there are a whole lot of お祭り (omatsuri, festivals) happening. The city that I am living at the momet, 上尾市 (Ageo-shi) held its festival on Saturday and Sunday of last week.
CHECK OUT A VIDEO HERE (RIGHT-CLICK AND OPEN IN NEW WINDOW).
The reasons for matsuri in Japan are wide and varied. The generally seem to be either Buddhist or Shinto in nature and are held virtually all over Japan at different times of the year with the majority occurring now and around お盆 (obon, Buddhist Festival for the Deceased). The two most common elements are the 神輿 (mikoshi, portable shrine) and the various stalls and games that line the streets.
You can see the Mikoshi being paraded around the streets in the above video. Allegedly enclosed within then is the deity of the area. They are usually covered with gold furnishings and often have Phoenix on top. Underneath the shrine are two long wooden blocks which people carry around on their shoulders to the rhythm of whistles, drums, shouting and so on.
Stalls at a Matsuri will usually sell Japanese food like Yakisoba, Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki, various religious trinkets, charms and sweets like fairy floss and candy apples. It isn’t that different from stalls at carnivals in the West I think. Some Matsuri have games. A popular one involves trying to snatch a small goldfish using a paper scoop which disintegrates easily.
One of my favourite things about Matsuri is that a lot of people come decked out in the more traditional Japanese clothes. A lot of Japanese life revolves around seasons and clothes are no different; as it is summer at the moment many people (particularly girls around my age and then young kids) were wearing 浴衣 (Yukata, summer kimono) and 甚平 (Jinbei).
After the Matsuri Shigeki, Jyota and ate dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Moving on to more general news, The Ageo Matsuri was nearly cancelled because a big typhoon that had been passing up through Japan had just reached our area. In the morning it was raining with big winds but by the afternoon the weather was calm enough for the Matsuri to go ahead. I live towards the northern end of Japan so the typhoon was already well into its dissipation phase when we experienced it, but the Okinawa Islands and Kyushu (Southern Japan) suffered some pretty extreme damage with loss of home in some cases.
Also it just so happens that the very next day after this big typhoon Japan is hit by a level 6.8 earthquake, the biggest in the past three or four years. Luckily Saitama wasn’ badly damaged, but the same can’t be said for Niigata (further North) in where some people have died and about a thousand are injured. The pictures that the news is showing is just phenomenal: destroyed houses, the ground split in two, resulting landslides, etc. Japan does indeed seem to be the land of natural disasters.