Thursday, August 13, 2009

Amami Festival

The first weekend in August was the Amami Festival. Usually we leave Amami before this, and I'm disappointed that I miss it, the biggest celebration on the island.

Friday night was the big fireworks display over the harbor. We went to Masami’s uncle’s house for a barbecue and to watch the fireworks. His son and daughter and her family were in town. It was a great fireworks display, and they were going off right in front of us. The explosions were really loud, louder than thunder, and echoed off the water, the buildings, the cement of the city, and the paved hillsides. We could physically feel the shockwaves from the explosions.
People came out in droves. I had no idea there were that many people in Amami.

After the big display, the kids lit some of their own fireworks. Masami’s cousin shot off some roman candle type things in the street that went up over the roofs of houses. It was kind of scary, since the houses are so close together. One firework fell over and jetted around the street, shooting flaming balls all over the place. I guess it's ok as long as you don't set soemone's house on fire. Cops passed by and didn’t say anything.
Saturday was the boat races. It was brutally hot, so we didn’t watch for very long, although we were offered shelter under one of the many shade canopies that were set up along the water.One of the guys there was the guy who targeted me during the parents' volleyball game, so we had a laugh over that.

The women were racing when we got there. The rowers were women, but they always had men steering (so they wouldn’t get lost?).

I tried rowing with one of these teams last year when they were training for the races. Rowing is a lot of work, although the races are short. I think the boats are more exciting to row than to watch.
We managed to stay until a couple of the guys' teams raced. When the boats turned, the sides came pretty close to the water level, so I hoped that someone would capsize and make it more interesting, but no such luck. I was told that it does happen.
That night was the Odori, or dance groups in the streets all through downtown. The streets looked festive, lined with red lanterns. I guess they were doing different dances, but they all kind of looked the same to me.
Some dance groups were more organized than others, with costumes and rehearsed dances. Some looked more like, as Masami has said of these festivities, an excuse to get drunk.
As soon as we had walked into the street we were handed drinks and ended up in a dance circle with leaves wrapped around our heads.

The final day was the parade, or parades (all of these things go on for hours and hours, so we only caught little snippets of them). More dancing and banging drums and chanting and costumes.

Cowhide drums with the hair on them.

Typical Japanese schoolgirls. I can never figure out why they wear their school uniforms during summer vacation.

The drink haulers were splashing people with water to cool them off.

I think the drink haulers were taking a little extra for themselves. I think these guys would have fallen over without the support of the bucket.

It was nice to see this sleepy city transformed with a colorful celebration. And I can finally say that I've seen it. This will probably be the last post for awhile, since it is very time consuming working with this technology (always something going wrong). I'll post some more pictures on Picasa of the rest of our trip. Thanks for reading.