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紺屋町の月待ち祭

2009 September 26

Shane called just as I was warming up dinner. “I ran into this little street festival while biking. There’s people walking around in yukata and some little stalls set up. I’m going back to take pictures; want to join?”

紺屋町月待ち祭

紺屋町 (Konyamachi, “Dyer’s Town”) is a small street of shops in the heart of the city. Their merchants’ association apparently is working very hard to revive cultural events in downtown Hamada, so this particular weekend they were holding 月待ち祭 (“tsukimachi matsuri”) – Waiting for the Moon Festival. September is normally time for moon-viewing – 月見 (“tsukimi”) – but the skies had been too cloudy lately to see anything. Still, the traditional platform of dango (riceballs) had been set up, and most of the stores on the main street of Konyamachi had little stands set up where they were selling or giving out food and hosting tsukimi-related activities.

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We arrived at the end of a koto performance by women dressed in identical kimono, but their male counterparts performed a song on the shakuhachi, a vertically-played traditional Japanese flute. The street was lined with tealights sitting in two-liter PET bottles, and further down we found a stand where you could decorate one of your own. Before we could continue walking, though, we were stopped by some English speakers, so we ended up trapped at the candle stand and decided to make our own.

The idea was pretty clever. Two-liter PET bottles are generally rectangular, and they taper into a pyramid at the top. Cutting off the pyramidal top and inverting it inside the body of the bottle created a small hollow which could be filled with a little water and then a tealight, so the candle could safely float without contacting the plastic. This was all done ahead of time; at the candle stand, children (and foreigners) could either make a snowflake-style paper cutting or paint a piece of thin paper with red, yellow, and green paint, and this would be taped around the PET bottle so that the light would shine through.

After making our candles, we stopped at a tea shop for free matcha (traditional green tea made by whisking powder in water) and sweets, then stood and listened to a priest sing and play the shamisen.

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There are two Mormon missionaries in Hamada; I’d caught a glimpse of them while biking before, but this was my first direct encounter with them. One of them has been here four years, but the other is fairly new and still learning Japanese. When his Japanese friend tried to explain the dango platform to him, he thought she said he should try one… He grabbed the one at the top of the carefully-constructed pyramid and was halfway through it before she caught him. We all had a good laugh, but I felt bad for him as well as for the official merchants’ association photographer trying to take pictures of the beautiful setup.

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