Some Samurai in your backyard

Recently I made the move to Japan. While it’s common enough to be a bit of a cliche, it’s still a new experience for me personally. There’s lots to learn, and that’s not even considering all the Kanji. (I’ve learned a hundred so far, just a few thousand to go.)

And you know what? I love it. I love every moment of its “different-ness,” (to me) and the ways it makes me grow. Yes sometime struggling to do basic things like reading an ATM can be a pain, but I think in the struggle I become a better person, not to mention empathize more with those who speak English as a second language. The ways locals have been friendly and accommodating despite my broken Japanese and the ways I can start to see the world separated from the American culture I grew up in are things I value immensely.

What is culture anyway? That answer is outside the scope of this post, but people sometimes say countries like Japan have “rich culture” whereas places like America have “no culture.” And again, a debate for another time, but in this little anecdote I can appreciate some things I see in Japan that I wish were more common in America.

One Friday, I walk out of my apartment and turn the corner to see a huge parade, a great cultural event, taking place in my backyard so to speak. It’s the Shingen Ko Festival, if you’re curious, and this year happens to be the 50th anniversary. It’s a festival to celebrate Samurai, and so here they were, thousands dressed up, with some riding horses, to celebrate this occasion. And it’s right where I buy my groceries.

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In the picture we see the great “Panasonic” clan, a group of people no doubt sponsored by Panasonic dressed up and smiling and walking in unison. It’s all a bit silly, and everyone knows it, but also there’s a lot of pride and enjoyment along with it. There were even some foreigners amongst the lineup in certain groups, and so you start to see the culture and bonds between people that make something like this possible.

What’s beautiful about this, and I think different from America, is everyone is participating. Certainly there are things like Civil War or Wild West reenactments to celebrate American history, but those seem far away and scripted. Here in Japan it’s not entertainment you pay for, it’s something you participate in. And since the towns are built to be walkable with train stations and city squares, it feels like a natural extension to everyday modern life, not a production you drive far away to experience for a set period of time. You get the feeling festivals like this can happen just about anytime or anywhere, even in your backyard.

Douglas Hewitt @madebydouglas