Monday, October 25, 2010

Festival Crazy

As it does every year, this year Kyoto also hosted two major festivals on Oct 22. Because this year's Oct 22 happened to be a Friday, me and a couple of my friends decided to visit them both. First was the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages), starting at noon, with an enormously long procession of people walking for about four hours through the city's streets dressed in clothing from all the ages since the year 794 when Kyoto became the capital of Japan (which it ceased to be after 1868). The procession's route led through the city center, starting at the Imperial Palace and ending at the Heian Shrine, which was actually built for this occasion. There are two things worth noting about this festival. First, it is so huge that it attracts tourists from all over Japan. So many people walk the streets dressed in various costumes that there are barely enough policemen to divert traffic and make sure that everything goes smooth. There is no way you can follow the festival because the streets are crowded, and so we just waited for it at 1.50PM at the crossing of the Karasuma and Oike streets. The whole procession passed by us in about twenty minutes and over it was. Interesting as it was, I am surprised to hear that people actually travel here from all over Japan to see this twenty minute fashion show. The second thing worth noting is that this festival is not full of volunteers who love to dress up medieval style but rather full of students who receive pay for doing so; even my Doshisha friend Masa walked the streets for hours dressed in a costume in order to receive ¥6300. I guess even the most famous festivals in Japan aren't done entirely out of people's love for their city's traditions.

The second festival, called Hi Matsuri (Fire Festival), started at 8PM in Kurama, a town in the mountains north of  Kyoto. Me and the same couple of my friends of course embarked on a trip to see the festival. We went to Demachiyanagi, the station from which a two-cart mini train leaves about twenty minutes to Kurama. We were recommended by people on the AKP staff to come at least two hours early lest we wish to wait in a line forever. So instead of going to the station so we make the train at 7.30PM, we went at five thinking how empty the place was going to be and how easily we would secure the best viewing spots. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and we didn't. The line for the mini train ride was longer than ever. We paid ¥820 (about $10) for the return ticket and waited, and waited, and waited. When it finally came to be our turn after about forty-five minutes of waiting in line, we ended up on a train where throngs of people were pressed like sardines. Pushed against people's backsides, front sides, and hands, we survived this horrible thirty minute ride and hastily left the Kurama train station, following the enormous crowd which just left the train. We followed and followed, but there was no end to that crowd. People were literally everywhere; I don't know how early they must have started coming, but it seemed as if many of them had come well before noon. There was only one tiny street where people were allowed to walk and even that street was only open in one lane because there were fires in the other lane. Yes, there were fires burning everywhere. So we went on pushing our way through the crowd until we decided that there indeed was no end to it. We couldn't see anything and were pushed from all sides by a festival-crazy mob. We turned around and, going against the never ending river of people, returned to the station. As you may guess, we weren't the only ones who thought that going back was the only sensible thing to do, and so the crowd going on the 7PM train back was as huge as the one going up, as was the line we had to wait in. ¥820 poorer, we were back where we started off by 7.30, half an hour before the festival was scheduled to begin

Agreeing that the last thing we wanted to do was to go somewhere where there were people, we sat down on the bank of Kamogawa (river flowing through Kyoto), popped a can of sake, opened a pack of supermarket sushi and dried squid, and enjoyed the lack of people. After an hour or so of just sitting at the river, a couple of musicians, a man and a woman, sat down on the stairs above us and started practicing one catchy song again and again. We stayed for a good hour or so more, enjoying the music, and when we were about to leave, we asked the two what they were about. Apparently they were  the singer and the guitarist of a starting underground rock/pop band called Maruyama Hanto Kamogawa Karuteto. They gave us their poster and invited us to their concert taking place on Nov 4. For some reason, musicians in Kyoto love to practice/perform at Kamogawa, but as most of them always hang where Kamogawa meets Shijo, Kyoto's busiest street, there are so many that you can barely distinguish among them. Because these two were playing in such an empty place, they got noticed (though just by us five people). The next morning I checked out the web page on the poster and indeed found the song which they were playing at the river. It's called Hataraku Hito (Working People) and is quite catchy. So click on the play button below and do as Dexter Holland once so famously said:

Ahhhhh, it's time to relax, 
and you know what that means, 
a glass of wine, your favourite easy chair, 
and of course this compact disc playing and your home stereo. 
So go on, indulge yourself, 
that's right, kick off your shoes, put your feet up, 
lean back and just enjoy the melodies. 
After all, music soothes even the savage beasts.