Sweetfish, fireworks, and summertime fun
Posted by ampontan on Sunday, July 18, 2010
MUNICIPALITIES everywhere hold special events outdoors when the weather gets nice, and often those events include large fireworks displays. As you might imagine, summer galas with fireworks are common in Japan. My wife’s family home is near a river, and the second floor of the house offers an excellent view of the local fireworks festival. Our house is a 10-minute walk from the municipal offices, where another fireworks extravaganza is presented every year.
Not many of the summertime events I saw in the United States started off with a special ceremony. For the fireworks festivals, people just head for a site with a good view and wait for the light and sound show to begin.
That’s not usually how it happens in Japan, however. People here like to hold a ritual/ceremony/event first to get off on the good foot, even if it’s small and few people attend. One opening ceremony that’s particularly appealing is conducted by the people who present the annual Hita River Opening Sightseeing Festival in Hita, Oita. The city is on the Mikuma River and likes to promote itself as a hydrophiliac municipality, so that’s where the events take place. As they do every year, the city began their 63rd festival this year with a small observance to thank the river divinities and ask their blessing for a safe event. Three young women, serving as the public relations face of the festival, dressed as miko (Shinto shrine maidens) and released 34 ayu, or sweetfish, into the river from the edge of a small stage.
Is that not a short but sweet gesture that shifts the emphasis from receiving to giving, and a gentle reminder of that which should come first?
About 90 people came to watch, including local government officials and representatives of the tourism industry. A much larger number of people came to watch the fireworks, in which 10,000 individual devices were released into the sky over the next two nights. There’s also what the Hita folk call the Hangiri Gempei Contest, which involves goofy competitions on the river. In one of them, individuals dressed in unusual costumes climb into what look like oversize wooden washtubs to do battle and try to capsize each other. They probably laugh themselves silly while everyone else enjoys the scene from the riverbank.
This is the first public event of summer in Hita, so it’s held at the end of May every year. The story got lost in the shuffle among the other files on my computer, but I thought it was good enough to present even if it is two months late. And speaking of good sweetfish stories, here’s another one about taking the ayu from the river instead of putting them back in.
Oh, and before I forget—here’s a superb photo of the fireworks over the river.
I’m tellin’ ya, this is a happening place!