Summer is one of the best times to be in Japan. Why is that Jason? Is it because of the sweltering hot weather and humidity? No. Is it all the short skirts? Well, yes that’s nice, but not what I’m getting at. Japan is great because of all the Summer festivals or “matsuri” in Japnese. Almost every town in Japan has their own festival with music, parades, and fireworks. Each one is unique. I live in Yonago, Tottori Prefecture. Yonago has the Gaina Festival がいな祭り . I want to share it with you here.
The main event of the festival however, is on Saturday night; the mantou parade. What is a mantou? Well, imagine a bamboo pole, 20 or 30 feet high, with bamboo cross bars and between 30 and 50 paper lanterns or chochin hanging all over. Those are real paper and real candles inside. One person balances the whole thing. I don’t know how heavy they are, but their not light. The mantou are carried by teams of 20 people or more. The teams bring there mantou down the main street just as in the dance contest. Music is played and members of the team take turns balancing the mantou. The trick is to balance it in different styles; two hands, one hand, on the chest, on the hip, on the head and so on. The teams are sponsored by local companies and businesses and the lanterns bear the company logo. This is also a competition. Winning the mantou contest is a matter of local pride. Do they ever fall down? Yes, all the time. Some team members carry long poles and push them back up. It’s funny, in all the times I’ve watched the festival, I’ve never seen one catch fire. The lanterns are made from a special waxed paper and are fire resistant. As the teams, get closer to the stage, they will sometimes add bamboo segments one by one to the bottom of the pole and push the mantou higher into the air; two stories or more and then bring it back down. The teams are judged on originality and skill. It’s really amazing to watch. When I first came to Japan and saw it for the first time, I thought this festival must be nationally famous, but it’s not. It’s just one of thousands of festivals going on in Japan during the summer..
Sunday is relatively uneventful. In the day time, there is a huge wading pool set up in the middle of the street in front of the station, and families bring their kids to go swimming. The end of the festival is at night with a big fireworks display in Minotoyama Park.. My family and I don’t usually go to the park because we can see most of the fireworks from the street in front of our house. The Gaina festival is the biggest event of the year for Yonago.