SYNOPSIS:  Festival hopping — first Kyoto, now Osaka.  About other major festivals in Japan.  Why I came to Osaka.


Why Osaka?  Really, I could have skipped it and in hindsight I should probably have gone to see the oldest flat-land castle Bitchu Matsuyama or Hokkaido instead.  But then, there was the Tenjin Matsuri.  It is one of the main festivals of Japan and it happened while I was nearby — how could I ignore it?

One thing has become clear to me:  I was extremely fortunate to be able to spend 70 days in this country, but it is not even close to enough to see even just the main sights.  Japan is definitely one of the culturally most dense countries I have ever been to.

The festival is a two day affair, but the main parade is happening on the second day.  I headed duly to the main shrine, the Tenmangu Shrine, the center of the festival, hoping to figure out where a good spot would be to observe the spectacle.  It seemed hopeless.  I was in about the 10th row of spectators seeing nothing but raised cameras and umbrellas in front of me.  I could hear the drums, but that was not enough.

I circled the shrine photographing some of the nicely dressed people who were lingering in the vicinity getting ready for the start of their section.  As I made my round I found an entrance where parade participants were led in and I followed.  Before I knew it I was in the third row right behind the people lining up for the parade.  There was still a lot of chaos going on and arranging and photographing, but I was that much closer and the parade was forming in front of me and in plain view.  It took only ten minutes and by some miracles people in front of me had left and I was right behind the rope separating eager viewers from equally eager participants.  I had arrived at a prime spot!  Now I only had to brave the 100 degrees and full sun exposure for the next two hours…!  It’s a miracle that I did not walk away sunstroked.  I felt for the parade participants who had to walk for the next couple of hours through the hot streets of Osaka.  Each block carried a small cart with water to prevent the worst.

You can most likely read a lot more detail about this festival online.  Here only so much: it is over 1000 years old going back to the foundation of the Tenmangu Shrine in the year 951.  It is a festival welcoming the annual visit of the gods and it is dedicated to peace and prosperity of the citizens of Osaka.  Various prescribed rituals are performed for two days through out the town, starting with a river ritual and ending with a spectacular fire work display.  The main features of the second day are a long street parade made up of all kinds of groups from mythical figures, goblins and gods to sake brewers and swords men.  The fun at night in addition to the fireworks is to watch numerous boats on the river filled with some of the parade participants, but also with performers, drummers, and entertainers. The boat parade is watched by spectators in boats and spectators lining up along the river front.  By another miracle I came to the river fully expecting again to end up in the tenth row and not seeing much.  Yet, there was a family who was packing up who had occupied a front line seat.  I was there at the right time filling in for them when they left.  Thanks, Ganesh!  Night photography is not my forte.  I saw a lot.  For the most part, you have to take my word for it.

One fun theme running through the entire festival was a unique slogan accompanied by the clapping of hands in a 2-2-3 rhythm.  It might be initiated by a drum or a voice coming from one of the boats, and then people along the shore or in passing boats chime in.

Hundreds of thousands of people were on their feet today, picnicking, eating, drinking, parading; crammed together near the festival area.  But in other parts of Osaka you could have completely missed this happening.  The stores were open, the subways were running, the theaters were performing as if it all were just an ordinary day.  Amazing.

I got out of this frenzy alive.  It was a miracle.

Good night.