Saturday, September 10, 2005

Harvest Festival

I was feeling it a bit from the night before, but even though the kids had stayed the night at Baachan's I had to get up! I had promised to pick up Lena before 10 so Baachan could take Amy to kindy. They had an event for grandparents. I took Lena to Jusco to the monthly flea market where I got HUGE brand new kitties for 100yen! Super! And I picked up some clothes for Amy, including black vinyl pants, wicked! And a fork, spoon and chopsticks set for Lena's lunchbox

Then I had to rush back to Baachan's, take Amy to her art lesson, then my own lesson. And straight after that, out to Yabakei in the mountains to Baachan's old house for the annual rice harvest festival. It's held in a shrine on the hill behind the house. The whole neighborhood comes, there are toy and food stalls, and beer. Most people seem to come for the raffles - I won a bag of sugar, Baachan won some noodles, a blanket and a standing lamp, which she gave to us, and we have more use for all three!

For me the main attraction is the wonderful kagura dances. These ancient, traditional dances honour the gods and celebrate the harvest. They wear elaborate costumes, wigs and masks. The first dance is the rice dance, where the dancer carries the rice in flat trays, and he spins around so fast that he can hold the trays vertically and none of the rice falls off.

Then there is the Princess dance, done by a very lithe middle aged lady who can bend backwards so her head almost touches the ground. And the sword dance, which is downright scary, as the dancer twirls the swords around his head and up and down and all around. Lena asked what would happen if he dropped them, something no-one could answer, I could only hope that they were blunted, despite being genuine swords that once belonged to Amy and Lena great-grandfather.

Then there is the oni, or ogre dance. This one is real scary for the kids, because, by tradition, for some long-lost reason, probably luck, the oni takes kids off their parents and whirls them around a few times, usually screaming full volume. Lena had a go last year, and was so scared this year that she did not even want to go up the stairs up to the shrine. We managed to get her up, and she relaxed as the night went on and there were no oni. We left before they came on, I bet they were thinking 'damn' cos there were not that many kids there because of the rain, and Amy and Lena were sitting right on the edge of the shrine.

We ate dinner at Baachan's nephew and niece's house - always the same thing - a huge platter of bought sashimi, and one of nigiri-zushi, home-made chirashi-zushi and/or -zushi, Junko's yogurt and fruit salad, spicy ___, gently boiled mountain fern, and fried chicken.

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