I think it’s been quite a while I haven’t written a “personal” post, one where the focus is more about what I did that day than the things around me.
Here is one.
On Sunday, we went in the southern part of Takamatsu, in Asano District to attend the Hyōge Matsuri!
It’s a small countryside matsuri – albeit quite known locally – just the way I like them, and it is pretty interesting by several aspects.
First of all, you need to know that hyōge is a slang term that means more or less “to act like a fool” and that the Hyōge Matsuri may be one of the most peculiar matsuri in Japan. It is actually classified as Intangible Cultural Property in Takamatsu.
It dates back from the Edo Period and it celebrates Yanobe Heiroku who dug the Shin-ike, the small artificial lake next to which the matsuri takes place. Thanks to the lake, farmers of the area could get water year round and didn’t suffer from lack of rain anymore. Moreover, like pretty much matsuri of late summer early fall, it’s also about praying for a good harvest (which should happen any day now in some parts of Kagawa).
So, the peculiar thing in this matsuri is that for a reason that’s unknown to me, it has a very carnival-like atmosphere. All the people taking part wear ridiculous make-up, some wear samurai costume made of paper, while their katanas are made of aloe and pumpkin.
The mikoshi itself is made of bamboo and has nothing majestic about it, although that may be for the best, seeing what’s about to happen to it.
Now, that you know a thing or two about the settings, here is the tale of that afternoon with pictures and a few words:
Here is a small part of Asano District in Takamatsu. On the foreground, this is Shin-ike, which doesn’t have much water right now. In the background, you can see that the mountains are not too far, and while we’re not very high (Google Earth tells me that the altitude is 100m on that spot), the view to the north is pretty interesting:
The buildings are obviously downtown Takamatsu, about 10 km away. More interesting (and strange) are the “hills” just behind. Those are Ogijima (on the left) and Teshima (on the right). Strange, because Ogijima is about 25 km away, Teshima, 25 km and they both seem to be right next to each other and right behind Takamatsu. They also appear higher than usual for some reason. The camera zoom may play a part in this, but the view was not that different to the naked eye.
Contrarily to its appearance, this house is not abandoned at all. To be honest, the picture is a bit deceiving. The house looks more “normal” under different angles.
Oh, maybe I forgot to mention that we’re also very close to Takamatsu Airport?
Let me now tell you about Asami, the little girl on the left (the baby on the right is my daughter, 華).
Meeting Asami was both probably the best moment of the day, but also the saddest. She was standing nearby, with her grandfather, who drove a mini-van carrying old people on wheelchairs and who came to watch the matsuri. When she saw me (and I forgive her for mistaking me for an American), and more important, when she saw 華, she quickly came towards us to chat. This is a thing I really like in Kagawa, especially in the countryside. Whatever their age, people are never shy and come to talk for a chat. I’m not sure where this stereotype of the shy Japanese who doesn’t talk to strangers, even less to foreigners, come from (probably Tokyo), but it definitely doesn’t come from Shikoku.
She stayed with us for a little while, she was completely fascinated by 華. It was clearly the first time she saw a foreign (looking) baby. She talked with 康代 for quite a while. And even if I could only grasp bits and pieces of their conversation, I could feel that despite the fact that she was only 8 years old, despite her very naive questions at times, this little girl had something buried in her. Her composure was odd for a girl her age. She seems both much more mature and much more immature than other girls her age. She had a depth, a heaviness and a certain sadness.
And it didn’t take her too long to open up to 康代. She was not only fascinated by 華 but also by 康代, in her role as a mother. She was not just chatting, she was searching for something, an answer, a revelation, something.
Her mother abandoned her when she was four years old. Her dad doesn’t really take care of her, and she’s being raised by her paternal grandparents. She said having only two friends, and I could guess that it meant the other children from her school were not too kind with her, most likely because she was the “strange girl without a mom.” I don’t really know the details, but it was not hard to understand that she’s a very lonely little girl and she must not have many occasions to smile in her every day life.
Even on Sunday, she had come to the matsuri with her grandpa, but as he stayed next to his mini-van all afternoon, she couldn’t really go much further away, so the only experience she had of the matsuri was to watch it from quite far away, definitely not “attend” it.
Two details moved me in particular. When we left her to go closer to matsuri participants (Why didn’t I invite her to come with us? I just didn’t dare. I didn’t think her grandpa would accept, and that would have given her false hopes), she returned near her grandpa until she saw this young mother and her baby and she almost rushed to them to see the baby and talk to them.
The other thing was when 康代 told her that 華 doesn’t understand what she’s being told yet, she responded that “when she’s four years old, she will understand many things.”
I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a father now, or if it’s because I work with kids every day, but this encounter moved me much more than I would have ever expected (even typing the quote in the previous paragraph a few days after the facts almost brings tears to me eyes).
Of course, I don’t know any of the details and circumstances of her story, but what mother abandon her four year old daughter? I just can’t comprehend.
In any case, little Asami, unfortunately, I’m afraid I will never see you again, but you’ll stay with me in thoughts for a long time, and I wish you the best. I rarely meant it so much.
I hadn’t seen the “real” countryside in a few months. I really missed it.
For some reason, this makes me think of Rainy Lane.
During that afternoon, I also discovered a new aspect of fatherhood. When one has a baby, it becomes pretty hard to get really close during a matsuri (at least not when you’re with your baby), so I had to change my habit from getting as close as possible (sometimes I get so close, that I become part of the action) to watching the whole thing from a distance. This has an unfortunate side effect for the blog: all the pictures are taken from afar (and from the same spot) and are not as interesting as they could have been (especially because they’re all from the same angle). Sorry about that. Next time, I’ll find a way to get closer without risking my daughter’s life (I guess it’ll mean leaving her and her mom for a few minutes, I should be able to manage to do that).
Very well behaved little girls. Actually they were posing for a photographer, little did they know they were also posing for me.
And once the photograph is taken, they become a bit more natural.
Everybody getting ready for the big finale on the north shore of Shin-ike.
An old man approached.
People applauded him.
The mikoshi got close to the water and its carriers pretended to run into the water.
華 had trouble staying awake the whole time (for some reason she was not really interested)
The mikoshi was carried towards the water one more time…
This time for real!
Of course, in those types of things, there’s always a wise guy in the middle.
It’s not like they were going to spend the whole afternoon there.
I like this picture. The son cried, the mom found that endearingly amusing.
I like the face of the woman on the left even more.
The reason why the little boy was afraid and crying.
Matsuri Dogs, now available in mini-size.
Bye bye Asano District
That’s all for my very perfectible report of the Hyōge Matsuri. I’ll try to get back next year and take better pictures.
Also, as it had been two years since I last attended a matsuri, I decided to go see as many as possible this harvest season (and I just so happens to have a few days of vacation in October). If you like countryside matsuri and such, stay tuned, more posts are coming your way.