Sunday Matsuri

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It was a beautiful and cool Sunday morning. The summer heat looks like it is finally gone and now Japan can enjoy the delicious fruits of summer.

This morning, my wife asked me if I wouldn’t enjoy going down to the local “Nebuta Matsuri.” The festival going on down by my local train station. “Why sure!” I said.

We could hear the banging of the Japanese “Taiko” drums letting everyone in the surrounding area know that it was “Nebuta Matsuri” (Autumn festival time) for our town, Sakura-Shinmachi.

Sakura-Shinmachi is not a very large town as far as Tokyo goes, but it is very convenient and a well-known area. One of Japan’s most famous cartoonists lived here many years ago and the main street is named after her cartoon family, “Sazae-San.” I guess the most comparable thing in America would be the Flintstones, but Sazae-San takes place in the late 1960′s and is still aired today.

The street is called “Sazae-San Dori” and once a year the local Kumiai has a festival there. Of course everyone is welcomed and it’s free. It’s a wonderful time as all the families in the area come to the center street to enjoy street entertainers, comedians, singing and dancing.

There was the 12-foot tall clown making balloons for the kids; there were the Chinese ladies singing and dancing traditional Chinese songs; there was the comedian telling hilarious yarns and auctioning off bananas. And, of course, there were the traditional Japanese dancers and music too.

Besides the street shows, there are little booths selling all sorts of things to snack on. But this isn’t the usual faire you’d see at an American carnival or circus. The things sold at the food stands here are traditional Japanese food. Things like “Yaki-Soba” (Grilled noodles), or “Yaki-Tori” (Grilled Chicken on sticks), or “Yaki-Ika” (Grilled Squid on sticks), or “Yaki-Ebi” (Grilled Shrimp). Why they even have cotton candy for the little ones.

I walked around with my wife and pushed the baby cart with my son in it and just enjoyed the atmosphere and the serenity of the mood of the people.

Of course this was no huge, big money event; but it was a way that the people living in the surrounding area could visit with each other and say “Konnichi wa!” (Hello!) It was a way for the local community to “stay connected.” I saw many folks there who I usually never see walking about the town, but I see them at my local swimming pool, or I sometimes see them at the bar.

I wish I could explain to you folks living in America what this atmosphere was like. Perhaps you older folks can understand; there were a few thousand people there all smiling and milling around. And yet, I did not see one policeman.

Teenagers taking a break from helping out — Not raising hell.

There was a group of teenagers that I saw taking it easy in the shade of an open car garage. But I could tell that the way they were dressed, that they were a part of the community and they were there to help out their folks and grandparents to have a successful Matsuri.

There was absolutely no tension in the air. No feeling of worry or fear for your personal safety. You didn’t have to worry about someone stealing your purse or wallet; the food and goods booth attendants didn’t have to fret about anyone stealing or shop-lifting from them; and one did not have the feeling that you had to keep constant eye on the little ones because of strangers. And, it seems strange now for me to have to even mention this as I write about this outdoor festival, but you most certainly didn’t fear terrorism; the thought must not have even entered anyone’s mind even for a split second.

I wish America could be this way. I think it used to be, a long time ago. If people could just get their act together, America could be like heaven too.

It was a typical Matsuri festival day in Japan. Just like any other day in Japan: There was no “pressure;” it was fun; it was freedom… And it is wonderful.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has worked as an independent writer, producer, and personality in the mass media for nearly 30 years.

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