Wasshoi Wasshoi – The Summer Festivals in Japan
This year the rainy season (tsuyu / 梅雨) in Japan started in May, nearly a month earlier then usual and it will continue until later July. People are quite fed up with it even though every year is the same.
Britain is a country famous for rain and many Mediterranean people were whinging its gray sky. I lived there for several years but I have little memory about gray sky. I have more memory about having a nap in the Greenwhich park under the big clear blue sky. It´s curious that I´ve never heard anyone tell me about Japanese rainy season, nearly two months of gray sky. Do they not come during this season?
We are waiting for the summer. As soon as tsuyu goes away, cicadas start screaming, and we all know the summer has come. Then the weather forecast lady in every channel announces us that tsuyu has ended. Along with it, the humid heat wave wraps us.
This is how we live, it´s a part of our life. I personally think that the summer in Japan is unbearble and only I want to do is not to exist.
Anyway, the summer in Japan is in some way special. Always somewhere in Japan there are fireworks festivals or summer festivals. I´ll talk about fireworks in another occation but today, it´s about natsu matsuri (夏祭り/ summer festivals), and especially about mikoshi (神輿/sacred potable shrine).
What is mikoshi? It´s a little shrine and inside it there is a patron saint of the local shrine. Those who carry this mini-shirine are called katsugi-te (担ぎ手) and they are the stars or queens of the event.
To some Spanish people, it may remind you "procesiones". It´s similar but more dynamic, they don´t just walk, with the call of "wasshoi wasshoi", this a few hundred kilograms of wooden structure moves up and down. Between katsugi-te, they are pushing each other try not to lose their position. The bars where they carry is just a lumber and after a few minutes, it gets your shoulder bone. I tried once when I was small because there are ones for kids. Yes, I was a whimpy one and still am, every time they called "wasshoi, wasshoi" the lumber hit my shoulder and I couldn´t stand the pain as well as the shout, I failed as a cool mikoshi girl.
For those katsugi-te, having mikoshi bump like this is a medal. Natsumatsuri attracts many tough guys and girls, in a way a bit gangsters. Some are professional katsugi-te and during the summer they move around different regions following the festivals.
I know a woman who loves mikoshi and she had all the natsumatsuri dates written down in her schedule book. She had also this bump on her shoulder.
Anyway, I prefer to watch. There are many styles of mikoshi depending on the region. The one like the first photo is a standard. Some are huge and carry with some men on the top of the mikoshi. In some regions, katsugi-te have to run through the town and in other regions, they fight against each other.
Mikoshi for me is a pure passion, heat and attitude. I love watching it and listening the sound of "wasshoi, wasshoi" coming closer.
You see people with some pretty drawing,too. Many matsuri are organised by yakuza groups. This is coexistence, you see?
When I was little, as a kid I loved to go to natsumatsuri for festival food; shaved ice ball, grilled squid, takoyaki, yakisoba, catching gold fish or nagging for a Ultra-man mask.
I always went with my mum and my dad never came. Only he made us sure not to eat anything from those stalls. In his theory the food is unhygienic as usually they are set in the middle of no where and there is no way to wash their hand often.
He would say to me "where do they wash their hands after doing the wee?" He gave me a quite clear image of men do wee although by the time we got to the street full of stalls and people, I completely forgot about it. Also my mum loves matsuti too and she was the first one to buy all food she could get. How could she stop me to eat?
So mikoshi is just an introduction of whole natsumatsuri. This leads, family gathering, watermelon, gold fish that can live only a few weeks some how, fireworks, food stalls, men and some women with irezumi, yukata (summer kimono) and constant noise of summer night.
If you are in Japan, it´s worth checking your local summer festival and if you can, just get your happi (ハッピ/ festival jacket like this guy in the photo wears) and join it. This is something you have to be inside them, then you can feel the vibes.
I took this photo a few years ago in the neighbourhood of my grandma. This was before a little fishermen village and now is a sort of fashionable suburb where people come to live as they can´t afford living inside Tokyo. Yet, there are still lots of shitamachi customs remain. You can see old Japanese neighbourhood, people are frank and rather rough but in a good sense.
Recently many Japanese boys are becoming herbivorous but as far as I see in this little boy´s eyes, there will be some real men left in Zipangu. Well, let´s hope.