Community is the key to living a happy, connected social life. Sure, facebook and myspace and mixi are great online communities. But true community, human interaction, is tops. Living in Japan, community takes on a different form than back home. Particularly, annual community events stand out. Summer fireworks, cherry blossom viewing parties, Gion Matsuri in Kyoto, even local flea markets.
The end of golden week is host to numerous festivals and community events. In some neighborhoods, Spring Mikoshi Festivals are held. These involve community members carrying a portable shrine, or mikoshi (神輿), around the neighborhood and chanting “wa-shoi” (it’s a sort of chant of encouragement, like “let’s go”). Each neighborhood’s mikoshi is unique, some more traditional, others expressing the personalities of the individual communities. Some cities have huge mikoshi festivals with all the communities coming together to create a sort of parade, but the more standard approach is to carry your mikoshi all over the neighborhood, down all the back streets and to all the parks and important points.
As the mikoshi can be quite heavy (sometimes weighing hundreds of kilograms), participants stop at regular intervals for breaks, where cool drinks and sweet & salty snacks are served. At this time members interact and true community can be felt. At the end, the mikoshi is packed away and the participants joina small party with food and drinks. If you have the chance of being in Japan at the beginning of May, get involved in your local o-mikoshi festival. You won’t regret it!
Edward, Smith’s School of English Otsu