Ohara Matsuri

This past weekend was the Ohara Festival in Kagoshima City! Many different groups from around Kagoshima did the festival’s dance all around town. The whole city was filled with the music for the dance, and anywhere you went on the main street, you could see all the groups. There were also the mandatory food stalls that appear during festivals. Japanese festival food is truly one of the greatest things on earth. I didn’t eat any at Saké Matsuri, so it had been a while. I also had been trying to eat healthy the previous week due to a cold. So when the opportunity to stuff my face while watching a whole town dance came up, well, I couldn’t pass that up.

The festival lasts two days. The first day is really just an abbreviated version of the second day, though it happens at night, which makes it pretty cool. On Friday night I just wandered around, had fun, and ate food. The second day I’d been recruited to work at an information booth.

I wasn’t so happy to wake up at eight on a Saturday. When I got to the booth, it was fine for a while. It was a simple job. All I really had to do was hand people fliers. From the particular booth I was at, I could hear the taiko drum performance. People-watching was also entertaining. However, as the morning went on, my patience started to wear. The people who came to the information booth were largely of an older generation who don’t have much experience with foreigners. By the end of the day I was sick and tired of people starting a question, getting a look at my face, and then assuming out loud that I don’t know what they’re saying. They would be gone before I could respond. I was working with another ALT, and we were both fuming after one man said, “Oh look, how nice, the foreigners are helping.”

After working, as me and the other ALT started heading back through the crowd, one old guy tried to grab onto me. I think he mostly wanted to shake my hand, but my friend in Hiroshima had a similar experience. Once she shook his hand, he didn’t let go. I had a feeling this guy would do the same thing, so I shoved my way through the dense crowd.

I had half a mind to go back to my apartment and take a long nap. However, the CIR I had worked with as an interpreter had asked if I would join his dancing group. I didn’t know whether I’d join, but I figured I might as well go watch. The group wasn’t terribly hard to spot – they were wearing bright green happi, except for my friend, who was wearing sky blue traditional Korean clothes and was carrying a sign that said “Genki Gaikokujin and Friends.” When I got near the group I realized several of the others were friends and ALTs.

The dances would go on for a while, and then the dancers would have several minutes of break in between. During one of the breaks I went over to say hi to everyone. “You should join us!” one ALT said excitedly. “But I don’t have a happi,” I responded. This was okay – someone was there in a few seconds with an extra one.

And so I joined the dancing group.

I didn’t know any of the dances, but they weren’t terribly difficult to learn. I simply kept my eye on one of the better dancers and imitated them. After doing each dance a couple times I had it (mostly) down.

There were four dances. We did three of the traditional Ohara Matsuri dances. Then for the forth we had a freestyle dance that was a mix of the currently viral Gangnam Style and another dance turned Japanese-style. I’m quite a fan of Gangnam Style, so I had a lot of fun doing it. The group in front of us, made up almost entirely of handsome young Japanese guys, didn’t know what to make of this dance. At first they stared blankly, but then they started copying us and laughing with us during breaks.

During these breaks there were booths where dancers could get free 焼酎, shochu, the specialty liquor in Kagoshima. At one point we laughed when we realized our group was made up of alcoholics – we were the only group to entirely disappear from the line during the breaks.

I danced for about an hour. I think everyone else was dancing for two hours. While dancing, the groups don’t make much forward progress. Because of this, I thought it wouldn’t take much energy. This was definitely not the case – the dances use a lot of arm gestures, and those really tire you out after a while!

By the time we finished, my irritations from the morning were entirely gone. I’m not usually one to join that sort of activity, but I’m glad I did! I think I’d like to join the dancers again next year, too.


~ by megumiwasframed on November 5, 2012.

3 Responses to “Ohara Matsuri”

  1. Lol. Gangnam Style again. I just can’t get away from it!

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