Monday, 3 December 2007

Part 3: Chichibu Yomatsuri (Monday 3 Dec morning and evening)

Monday was the 'real' day of the night festival. In the morning I went early to see the Kami-machi yatai jolt out of the garage and head on down the street, followed by a preliminary reconnoitre of the street stalls, interesting foods and unsurpassable odour of cooking octopus and bonito filling the nostrils. I met up with Megumi and she showed me round the many streets filled with stalls of traditional cuisine, goods, handcrafted wares, entertainment for children and every conceivable culinary method of murdering octopus from okonomiyaki to takoyaki, fried, scorched or squid (ikkai) coated in rich bulldog sauce on skewers, sweet fish, turtle (to catch as pets not to eat), spice-stalls, roasted chestnuts or smoked shitake mushrooms, grilled chicken karaage, scary candied fruit and dipped banana desserts and the artful candy sculptor.

I was invited for lunch of traditional foods by my neighbour, Sakura-moto-san, such as yam, udon she cooked 'on the BBQ' in the yard, burdock root and carrot, sesame spinach and soup. We then proceeded downtown with her two kids and their cousin to look at the stalls and games alley for children. We walked with the floats for some time and at the Chichibu-Jinja, met the horse belonging to Mount Buko. This is difficult to conceive for the limitations of the rational Western mind ... Explanation goes something like this: the spirit of Mt.Buko is linked closely (wedded?) to Chichibu Jinja. The mountain and his girlfriend each have a horse. After walking quite a distance around town and to the City Hall where the floats would later assemble that night (with limited access to ticket-holders, hence nice to see by day before the crowds), it was time to rest.

In the evening Kundan and I joined the Kakizakai family for a feast of Japanese festive foods and sake to warm up ready for the procession with floats into the centre of town. Kaoru and Megumi Kakizakai knew all the hotspots for photography an catching glimpses of exciting events. We made our way to a corner that each float must turn to reach the shrine and watched the glowing yatai illuminated only by lanterns jostle through the crowded street to shouts and cheers. The evening procession was marked specially by fireworks whenever a yatai reached the City Hall compound. Eventually we made it up to the main street near Seibu-Chichibu station to watch the exploding fireworks unfold over an extended period. Not until 2:30am did the sigh of the shallot-lubricated cart wheels and thundering taiko subside. It had been two full days of festivity.