The first Japanese festival I attended was the Owara Kaze no Bon Festival in the quiet mountain town of Yatsuo, in Toyama, Japan. Last September, I was still very new to Japan, and attending Owara was my first venture in Toyama alone. I was a little nervous but proud to be discovering a new country and culture. On a damp Friday evening, I took the train to Yatsuo and slowly strolled around the town, following the flow of the Jinzu River and admiring the beautifully-crafted paper lanterns that lit the streets with a delicate pink-orange hue. Everything about Yatsuo seemed traditional and tranquil.
I ran into a few fellow Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs) and we walked to the main festival area together. Unlike most festivals in America, a center stage isn’t important for Owara because dancers perform at seemingly random points throughout the town – on small, scattered stages, in the street, and even on the porch of homes or stores. When reading a little bit more about the history Owara, I learned that it is one of Toyama’s most acclaimed festivals, and the dances that are performed symbolize a 300-year-old tradition of praying for good harvest of rice (and also to keep away typhoons).
This year, I attended the festival for the second time and was pleasantly moved by this tradition once again. I now seem to associate this special festival with independence and new beginnings. Some videos of the festival can be viewed on my Vimeo page. More videos of the festival from others can also be found on YouTube.