Itako Gion Matsuri - Part One

As a reward to me for agreeing to see a second doctor (I have a minor skin condition on few fingers) we had lunch at Wordsworth restaurant Saturday. I don't have a high regard for medical doctors (a view which deepens with every visit). Oh, they are very good at fixing broken things, and offering chemicals to treat symptoms, but pretty clueless about getting to underlying causes, keeping people healthy or restoring health. But I digress. I told K she'd have to bribe me if she wanted me to go.

Anyway, it was a hot day, and the air conditioning would have been welcome, but the interior of Wordsworth was pretty packed (as usual) and we opted for the lanai (covered patio) which has no air conditioning, but a nice breeze and no crowd. We had specials of the day - cold angel hair pasta salad. K's choice was topped with medallions of roast beef. Mine had a sauce with diced raw scallops and avocado, daikon radish sprouts, a bit of onion, lettuce and tomato. Oishii! (ono, delicious, maleka). Those Wordsworth chefs really know their art. Price was right too - ¥1000 each (about US$8.40).

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Then we were off to check out the Gion Matsuri - a festival of dancers and floats taking place Saturday, Sunday, and Monday in our neighboring city of Irises and canals - Itako.

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We found one float on a narrow side street, the musicians playing as young men did the heavy work of moving the float and doing a U turn. The four wooden wheels are fixed, so turns must be accomplished with chocks to stop a wheel as long poles are used as levers to push the float around by brute force. Older men, who no doubt have experience at this, supervise.

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K was please that we came upon this particular float, as it was dedicated to Benkei - full name Saito Musashibo Benkei - a legendary Sohei (warrior monk) who lived in the late 12th Century and whose exploits have been the subject of Kabuki and Noh plays. He's a very popular figure in Japanese folklore. His statue's head and hand are visible in the first picture, atop the float. The entire statue can be raised up out of the float during the parade through the streets, or lowered for bridges, phone wires, or for making turns.

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As we watched them, a freight train from Kashima Port roared across the concrete trestle above us, juxtaposing the modern "magic carpet made of steel" with the ancient ritual on wooden wheels, and the mass transport made possible by cheap fossil fuels with the man powered mode. The energy in a single liter of gasoline could easily move this float several kilometers, yet is priced more cheaply than bottled water and so carelessly wasted as if in endless supply.

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K inquired about the rest of the floats and the planned activity for the day. It turned out that there would be five floats meeting at the town center. Larger celebrations of twelve floats are held every so many years, and 2008 will be one of those occasions. For now, it would be some hours yet before all five of today's floats got together, so we decided to return for Sunday evening's festivities when they would be in full swing (and at a cooler time of day).

Here's a very short (ten second) video clip of this float. I'll be taking more clips and pictures Sunday evening.


ladybug said...

It sounds very interesting! Since this float was dedicated to particular person, are each of the 5 (or 12) floats dedicated to other ancient personages?

The restaurant sounds good too!

Pandabonium said...

Ladybug - yes, the floats each have an image of some famous historic or mythical person.

Wordsworth is a favorite restaurant of ours (Moody & co. too). Excellent pasta and seafood dishes.

Hill said...

Wow! What a fun day. LOVE the accompanying pics, of course.

BTW, am listing your place here as one of my 10 FAVES at the new place.

Hope you don't mind.


Swinebread said...

12 century warrior monk... We are so new here in the US

Pandabonium said...

Hill - mind? I'm honored. Can hardly wait for the launch if your news blog.

Swinebread - Of course the Native Nmerican cultures go way back and there were even European visitors to the US "BC", but in terms of the modern culture it only goes back a few hundred years on the east coast, and a couple of hundred on the west.
Young whippersnappers.

The Moody Minstrel said...

I once had the honor of helping pull a "dashi" (float) like that, but it was in Hokota, not Itako. There must have been a few dozen people lugging that thing, and it was STILL quite a load!

Momo the Wonder Dog said...

Wow, Moody, that's cool. I can imagine that was some workout - the things weigh a couple of tons to begin with plus ten or fifteen guys riding, must be like trying to move a bus.

Pics and video of Sunday coming up sometime tonight.

Happysurfer said...

Very nice. Thanks for sharing the video clip.

Pandabonium said...

Happy - thanks. I'm still working on Part II which will have two longer video clips and lots of pictures. Hope you'll check back. :^)

PinkPanther said...

Waiting for your part II photos & video clips (a bit longer) impatiently.

Wow…Moody tried to pull those float?
I can’t believed he did THAT. Strong enough ;=)

Pandabonium said...

PP - whew! done. Hope you enjoy the pics and clips. It's a long post.

Well Moody does look a lot like Clark Kent.

Martin J Frid said...

You might want to take more photos of the retro neon signs, I for one is a big fan. To think that one day they will all be gone, and Japan will never be the same again.

Pandabonium said...

Martin, you have a point. There are several different signs around town and perhaps someone should do a photo catalog of them.