One of my first experiences when arriving in a small town called Ojima in Gunma Prefecture 20 years ago was being asked to take part in the town’s annual summer Neputa Festival. The Neputa are colourful floats made out of “washi” (Japanese paper) decorated with images of mythical “kabuki” style characters, often depicted going into battle. I was asked to sit on top of a large Japanese drum and play it in a procession around the town accompanied by male “taiko” players on the ground. In the spirit of Internationalisation and also adventure, I couldn’t refuse.
I was totally unprepared for the humidity of a Japanese summer plus the hard work and commitment that went into training. The Japanese ladies made it look effortless. My arms have never hurt so much and I can still remember the rhythms and chants that we made. It certainly was a memorable experience and was my first introduction to Japanese festivals-or matsuri as they are known in Japan. Most Japanese towns hold Matsuris every summer-some more famous than others but they always involve floats of some description, drumming, people dressing up in “yukatta” (cotton style kimonos) or “happi” jackets wearing the somewhat uncomfortable “zori” (Japanese style footwear) and everyone partaking in the local dance or “odori”.Anyone who has a chance to visit a Japanese matsuri is in for a real treat. The humidity mingled with the array of sounds, smells ,food & drink alongside a real sense of community cohesion is truly captivating. I still have my selection of yukattas and zoris plus of course the much needed “uchiwa” (fan).