27 May 2010

Ieyasu Parade

Today we went to our second Japanese Festival – the Iesayu Parade in Okazaki City. Now those of you who know me well let me stop you right here – it wasn't that kind of parade. There were neither floats nor bands. I would not have gone to that kind of parade. This parade was a celebration of cherry blossom season and the birth of Tokugawa, the Shogun of Japan during the - wait for it - Tokugawa Era. Tokugawa was born in Okazaki and he is the one who ordered Nagoya Castle built (the castle from the mass email I first sent out). More importantly, this was a parade featuring samurai.

There were over 1000 samurai dressed in traditional samurai warrior armor with real-enough-looking swords. They also had fully-functional flintlock rifles, which they fired over the river.

Tokugawa's general was on horseback, as was the general's... lieutenant? Assistant? We weren't sure. Unfortunately we didn't get great shots of them.

We were told by a lady we work with that when she first went to this festival the horsemen would ride by targets at full gallop and shoot at them with bows. I was really excited to see this but it didn't happen. The only bows we saw were on the midway across the river. (Brief aside: these were recurve bows, not cheap plastic Canadian Tire bows. You had to shoot at balloons 20 meters or so away. The lineup was 50 people deep so we skipped it – we wanted to get good seats for the samurai battle [we didn't end up getting very good seats]. Could you imagine going to a carnival in Canada and shooting a bow and arrow at targets? It would be an insurance nightmare. It'd never happen.) I would have been satisfied with the General hurling his long spear at something but that didn't happen either. Oh well.

The battle itself was pretty well choreographed. Tokugawa's men were attacked by the ninjas and the samurai had to fight them off. After the ninja were killed/run off, the General ordered a full assault on what was presumably the enemy's army. The different contingents of foot soldiers then charged off the field to much cheering by the fans.

After Tokugawa's men charged off the field, he and his daimyo (lords) watched a fireworks show and then the festival ended. Fireworks during the day aren't as impressive as they are at night. For one thing, the colours aren't as vibrant. Another problem is the smoke. You don't really notice the smoke from fireworks at night because it's dark. During the day it's really all you can see. The pictures didn't turn out too well so we're skipping those.

Grace (our friend from Edmonton), Aimee and I crossed back to the other side to get some more festival food (I think I mentioned how delicious festival food is in my last email). After enjoying yakitori (meat on a stick – we had pork) and squid (also on a stick) we decided to sweeten things up with candied apples. Neither Aimee nor Grace had had candied apples before. Grace still hasn't because she opted not to get one.

We continued walking along the river enjoying the cherry blossoms while taking the obligatory cherry blossom pictures. Here is the best one:

On our walk along the river we encountered an old Japanese man and his dog, Nowaru. The dog looked like a small akita. If I've looked it up correctly, Nowaru means “sly” or “sneaky.” The name applies to the dog as he looked like a trickster.

I ran into the man first while Aimee and Grace were behind me taking pictures. He asked me if I was “Igirisu,” which means British. I told him I was “Canada-jin” and his face lit up. He started to go off about all the places he had been in Canada. He had been to: Vancouver, Kamloops, Calgary, Edmonton, Athabasca, Anchorage and Juneau (those last two are in Alaska). He had driven between some of the places and taken a train between others. By this point Grace and Aimee had caught up to me and Grace, whose Japanese is better than mine, made the conversation between the three of us (Aimee doesn't speak Japanese) much better. He asked where in Canada we were all from and he asked me my age – but not Aimee nor Grace. I thought that was odd. He asked if he could take our picture and we happily agreed to pose for him under a cherry blossom tree. Then he took Grace's address – presumably to send her a copy of the picture (hopefully more than one). He was a very friendly old man and while we were riding the train back Aimee and I discussed how that sort of thing would not happen in North America as often as it happens in Japan. Even though we are becoming more and more common in Japan, the Japanese do not seem to tire of striking up conversations with westerners.

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