Sunday, I had plans to meet up with two other lolitas is Ohsu, who I 'met' through Livejournal. Plans fell through with one of them due to a school event, so we ended up having to cancel.
At the last minute, the other girl sent me a message asking if I'd rather go to an Autumn Festival with lantern lighting in Tsushima. We decided to go casual, since festivals can be messy, and we didn't want to stick out any more than we all ready did.
So Sunday afternoon, I boarded the Higashiyama line to Nagoya Station, then made a transfer to the Meitetsu line.
That's where I met up with C-san, and we took the train to Tsushima together. Her phone had access to train time tables, but we still got lost for a little while. It was easy to back track and board the right train though.
Stepping out of the station into Tsushima, I was fairly surprised. I was expecting crowded streets, lots of vendors with festival food, and decorations. The sky was overcast, which diluted the colors of booths in the distance.
We continued down the street towards the shrine. A kid sprinting by almost fell on his face when he did a double-take at us. Down the street, we could see something looming, as the sound of drums and flutes got closer. When we were upon it, there was so much for our eyes to take in...
These 'floats', all 300-500 years old, were being pushed down the streets by men in happi coats and festival gear. Children, young women playing flutes, and men beating taiko drums were all riding on the bottom. On top, there was a mechanical doll display, each one telling (I assume) a different story, cultural scene, or parody.
The drum beat bubbled up from under your feet, like you were on the pulse of life in this town. Women had their hair done in high, curled updos, false nails and eyelashes attached. Even though the men grimaced hauling the weight of the floats, they grinned at the same time.
One thing they did with the floats was wind them around in tight circles, which left huge etchings in the street. I'm not sure what the reference was, but to me it is like the world going around, seasons changing, and good luck for new beginnings.
The floats progressed all the way to the shrine, where everyone in the town was waiting.
One by one, the floats passed through the red arch and approached the waiting masses. An announcer introduced the float and described the story being played out by the dolls. Then the built-in band would start up, the story would play through once, and the float was carried away to 'park' along side the shrine.
My favorite performance had a doll practicing her calligraphy, and at the end of the song, ink actually flowed from her brush.
It was the kanji for 'treasure'. Apparently something was set up wrong and she was painting on the wrong side, so here we see a 'tech' correcting the problem.
After the performances, we set off in search of food. I was hoping for taiyaki or mochi, with no such luck. Popular snacks included yakisoba, chicken kara-age and candied apples.
Finally I found a window selling dango. I joined the long line, change in hand, as I watched the woman work behind the window.
She rolled the dumplings by hand and skewered them, then cooked them over an open wood-burning fire. As they cooked, she dunked them into a rustic looking clay pot filled with shoyu sauce. After they were coated she threw them back on the fire, cooked them a little longer, and repeated. Her husband took the money and wrapped the hot, fresh dumplings in paper.
They were the best dango I've ever had. Normally I get them from the super market or the sushi place, and they can be gluey. These were actually soft and still had the texture of rice. My friend said they reminded her of mochi she had in Kyoto, which still had chunks of rice in it.
At dusk, we headed back to the shrine to see the lantern lighting. These lanterns were lit with candles, not electric lights. Each float had a different design on their paper lanterns.
After the lanterns were lit, the floats were hauled back to the street for a round about the town. It happened to be right en route to the station, so we followed them out, joining the river of people holding lanterns.
What made this amazing to me, was that the town was so small. Literally everyone who lived there took part of the festival in some way or another.
Also, each float was so old! In the US, something that old would be video taped in action, and instead of using it future generations would just watch a recording. The actual heirloom would probably sit locked up in preservation somewhere.
Here, tradition called them into action, but they maintained the condition too. Even though these were living pieces of history, everything was clean, vibrant, and working. The people were close and intimate with tradition; not distant from their history.
All in all, I am so glad that other girl dropped out on Lolita day. I would rather see things like this any day.