In summer Japan becomes the land of festivals (matsuri 祭). In every city, from the smallest town to the largest cities , events are held practically every week. It's hard to keep track of all the matsuri that are scheduled, even more in the big metropolis. It's not uncommon to casually find yourself in the middle of a crowded street with people screaming, dancing and doing the craziest things.
It was the 4th of August 2018 and I was wandering in the center of Sapporo. I love to "get lost" walking around without an exact destination. I think it's a great way to explore a place and it often happens that I run into very interesting places while doing so. On that day I was in the central area of Susukino (すすきの), the beating heart of Hokkaido's capital. Turning a corner, I run into a crowded side road with tens of food stalls selling every kind of food. On the main boulevard people dressed in traditional clothes were screaming like crazy, floats displaying miniature shrines were parked along both sides and a guy was announcing something from a stage. The show was about to begin.
In a few minutes participants with the same costume grouped together, each around one of the floats. At the signal of who seemed to be the directors of each party, the groups lifted the massive wooden floats. Onto every of them a guy was standing balancing himself. He then started to scream rhythmically, waving a folding fan, and the hundred or so people below started to make the whole thing jumping up and down. The intense struggle was clear looking at those sweating faces, a cluster of bodies working synchronously in a perfect show of rough physical strength and teamwork.
It's a common belief that Japanese people are shy, maybe they are in normal life, but not during a matsuri like this. You will find people stopping you asking to take pictures of them and with them, screaming aloud in every direction, always happy and showing big smiles. It’s a very pleasant atmosphere and you can really feel the positive vibes in the air.
The next show was a dancing competition between eight different mixed groups of boys and girls performing Yosakoi dance. This traditional kind of dance originated in Japan more than sixty years ago and it's often part of this kind of events all over the country. The colorful costumes and the synchronous moves resembled very different characters, from martial artists to countrymen or soldiers. All the choreographies had unique elements to differentiate from the others: a guy waving a huge flag, people playing drums and even the traditional dragon dance.
When all the shows ends and the streets come back to normality, it feels like waking up from a dream.
Explore more on our feature page covering Sapporo, Matsumoto, and Kagoshima