I went to my first official festival in Tokyo today, the Shinjuku Eisa Matsuri Festival: “The Eisa Matsuri Festival originates in Okinawa as a ritual of kyu bon (old bon), to honour the spirits of ancestors and pray for the well-being of families and the prosperity of businesses. Teodori hand dancers, sanshin three-stringed instrument players, jutei singers, clown-like characters… form a procession and dance through town to the beat of taiko drums large and small. This nationally renowned traditional event from Okinawa came to Shinjuku, Tokyo and grew into a symbol of summer. This year marks the 12th holding of the festival.”
Japanese festivals are a great way to spend an afternoon…the dancing, the music (especially the drumming) and the crowds…oh the crowds. I totally don’t recommend festivals if you are in the least bit agoraphobic, actually, I’d avoid Tokyo in general as it’s pretty much always crowded. That being said, the crowds are pretty orderly. They have tons of staff (and police) to control the flow of people, to keep passageways free and to ensure everyone can see. If you want to get closer, you just ask and you will politely be invited to step on the other side of the rope which is there to keep an open throughway. When you consider the heat (‘feels like 41 degrees’), it’s actually amazing that there are no fights, no pushing, no bad behaviour of any sort. The homeless dudes (yes, there are homeless people here) drink their sake in the shade and the families just walk on by. There was even one little blond boy who lost his mum. He was just chatting away to a policeman and some festival organizers until his frantic mum found him. No panic, just follow the “lost-child plan” though I’m sure the fact that it was a non-Japanese speaking blond kid threw them for a bit of a loop.
Apparently this festival originates in Okinawa and I was lucky enough to happen to go to Isetan department store (LOVE Isetan) where their special event space on the 7th floor was a one-day market for Okinawan specialties–food, sake, clothing, pottery and all sorts of handicrafts. Now THAT was crowded, but again, everyone patiently waits their turn to be served. No pushing. Line-ups don’t seem to be any sort of deterrent here. I guess people get used to them. I’m still not though, can’t wait in a lineup of twelve people for snacks no matter how delicious they look. There’s always a 7-11 or two on the way home…
Eisa Matsura Festival participants and the Braille pathways I keep tripping over 😉
Accessibility isn’t the first thing you would likely think of when Tokyo comes to mind; however, they’ve made a valiant effort with elevators, ramps, stair lifts and a raised Braille pathway along the sidewalk. Most packaged products also have Braille labels. Do we have that in Canada? I’m thinking we don’t but I could be wrong as it may be one of those things you don’t really notice unless it pertains to you or when you’re in a foreign country and everything is novel. Anyway, today must have been my day to notice how the Japanese treat the disabled or partially-abled. I’m not sure what the correct term is these days. I’ve been here since June 30 and scuffled around, stubbing my toes a few times, on the raised yellow sidewalks but I hadn’t seen one blind person in Tokyo using the aforementioned pathways. Today I saw four blind people–one in the subway station and three at the festival (see below). I’m not kidding AND I’m happy to report they were using the raised yellow sidewalk and it seemed to be fulfilling its purpose guiding people safely through the city and subway stations. Personally, I can barely figure out the subway stations and I can see so I have deep respect for those who navigate this crazy place with any sort of disadvantage beyond not speaking or reading Japanese.
Today I decided to go to the Eisa Matsuri Festival in Shinjuku. There was another festival in Kagurazaka but it necessitated a longer time on the subway and a change of trains and it was simply to hot to cope. Shinjuku is a no-brainer–three stops on the Yamanote Line, 160Y. It was, as usual, ridiculously hot–34 degrees but ‘feels like’ (a term I have grown to hate) forty-one degrees; however, this seems to be the way of things and I can’t simply stay inside all day.
So you’re probably wondering how accessibility, the blind, the weather and a festival all fit together. Well, the weather is simply an aside that I can’t help but mention as it is truly oppressive and hard for me to overlook. The other three do come together nicely. I’ll write more about the festival later but the coolest thing about it was that there were kids with both mental and physical disabilities completely participating in the dancing and drumming. I didn’t actually notice any difference between the kids until the one young man in the photo turned towards me and gave me a huge smile. It was a fun experience, despite the heat and I figured if they’re out in the sun dancing and drumming I should stop whining and take a few photos!
Took the subway today…just to see if I could do it. It’s not that hard if you’ve got all the time in the world. Also if you stand around looking perplexed someone will come and help you. Every time I stopped and looked at a map today someone asked me if I needed help within about a minute. Anyway, the subway ticket machines have an English button, but not all have the handy-dandy fare calculator. So I overpaid to get to Shinjuku…should have only been 170Y. Live and learn. I also figured out that I don’t have to transfer…I can get off at Shinjuku sanchome instead of transferring as that gets me to the ‘fun’ side where the cool shopping and the English bookstore (Kinokuniya) are located. The subway does have announcements and signs in English though there are still many things I don’t understand. Like the stainless steel box with the flashing red light. And why some trains don’t stop at all the stations and how do you know which ones? There’s WAY more English than there used to be though…but I still have a chance to practice reading hiragana (more on that later).