Monday, 17 May 2010

Kurofune Matsuri

The festival of black ships takes place in Shimoda and commemorates the arrival of ships from America, at the end of the Edo period, and is significant in that it was the beginning of Japan renewing official with relations with the outside world, which in turn led to the modernization and development which took place in the Meiji period. The matsuri is a large event, which happens in the center of the little town and included a kimono fashion show, in the beautiful grounds of a temple under the mountains, and a big parade through the city the next day. The parade is an interesting mix, with Okinawan drummers, Brazilian samba dancers, and traditionally dressed samurai, geisha, ninja, oiran and all sorts. There is plenty of music, too, with American military bands, Dixie groups, shamisen and taiko. The stores all open up food stands on the street and there is much eating, drinking and celebrating going on. It was nice to see whole families watching the parade go by, grandparents and little kids, everyone out of their houses. In spite of Japanese being known as generally shy, they do have events like this, where the community pulls together. Such events don't have a counterpart in the UK, I don't think, so it is a great thing to see. In spite of all the drinking, you do not see people behaving badly, or making a nuisance of themselves, and people take the time to stop and talk to people they do not know. I think this is the kind of thing I think is really special in Japan.
We spent the night in a Japanese style inn and of course, we enjoyed karaoke, an onsen bath, and ate good seafood for dinner.
The Okinawan dancers have bingata kimono, and you might notice that they have osode, and also no hashiori, presumably because of the climate. Their hats are lotus flowers. The oiran's outfit is very gorgeous, with a small triangle on the collar turned over, which is supposedly erotic. The American's costumes are 19th century naval ones. There is a mad here in Edo period traveller's costume. He is actually travelling around Japan in this outfit, with his whole family! There were some interesting looking people in Shimoda yesterday!

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