Monday, December 08, 2003


Country folks are always friendly since they work in tandem and harmony with the big things, like earth and sky, so at festival time in the country it's like one big re-united family. Chichibu has been doing this festival for many centuries now, so the spirits are high in a town that on Festival Night is lit mostly with the golden light from all the stands and lanterns more than street lights, it's very like going back into the past, where the floats are all lit with candles and stand out all the more in the dimness, take on appropriate mystery amid the sound of taiko drums from the dark.

Because of our peripatetic approach, we saw one float go by across the railroad tracks, two set out from the shrine, one streak down a narrow street architectured from way back-- want to visit again just to see that in several lights-- floats wending past people on their roofs, one float pulled up to the crowd and started "bowing" with several float attendants on the teetering float roof talking nonchalantly via cell phone to attendants on the other float roofs, or maybe their girlfriends.

We happened to be in the crowd that one float was "bowing" to, and folks started flocking toward it from along the already crowded street; the pressure soon grew too great and we were squeezed out via an ingeniously arranged crowd pressure-release valve into a narrow alley that led to another great little street, lined with stalls offering every kind of food and pickle and snack between the doors to shops, intriguing old restaurants of every traditional description and bistros old and new (one called "Snob"), and the oldest functioning pachinko parlor I've ever seen (part of its sign in the Shiga Window at left).

It was getting cold so we went into one of the shops to buy some handwarmers, and while there spotted some "red pepper" sox, made of wool blended with silk and somehow incorporating the "hot" constituent of red pepper (capsaicin)!! (Anyone who's ever read Jethro Kloss (Back to Eden) knows how red pepper can warm the feet, so we got some of those too. And they work. (I'm wearing a pair right now. Who needs a stove? I've got a whole kitchen wall full of drying tabascos and thai dragons, so my feet are set for the winter.) Never knew such things existed. Small country towns take you in new directions.

Deep into the night we'd been walking for hours, it was getting colder and colder, then the fireworks began, whole streets full of people looking up at the skies going aaaahhhhh... The beauty of old festivals is as much in the moment as in all the time they bring to bear on the very now with all these new young folks in it that have such ancient things to learn afresh, and how better than a big street-and-sky party with all the heft and boom of the past, all the ardor of being a culture, here it is from us to you, carry on... be noble, be true, have fun, be generous with your gifts and pass it all on, so they do and so they will...


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