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Chinese New Year Parade in Yokohama

Day 8 of the Spring Festival is fun for the family

I had never been to a Chinese New Year parade before, but seeing it was exactly how I envisioned it would be - and that's way better than anything I could have expected.

The second weekend (Day 8) of the 15-day Spring Festival celebration sees a traditional parade make its way through Chinatown, delighting crowds with a vast array of performers. Dancers dance, jugglers juggle, firecrackers explode everywhere, troupes of musicians crash their cymbals and beat their drums and gongs, teams of performers carry the symbolic dragon above their heads, and lavish, colorful costumes are on full display.

Many of the performers in the parade are dressed in the tradition of Beijing Opera, a traditional theater style that involves acrobatics, storytelling, dancing, music, and martial arts. It is a very visual art form, and those familiar with it can tell a great deal about the characters simply from their appearance. For example, the man being carried in the wheeled cart can be identified as the emperor due to his yellow clothes and crown. One government official can be identified as being of a higher rank than another because of the more intricate design on his garments. Characters can be identified by the color of the face paint, with the clowns being in white, for example.

The famous Chinese story "Journey to the West" played a prominent role in the parade. This classic story tells the tale of a monk who must journey to the Western Lands to obtain the sutras, sacred writings. Many of the characters in this story made an appearance, such as the monkey, the juggling pig and the baton-twirling little boy.

Don't worry, though, if it all sounds a bit complicated. While this knowledge might help with your deeper understanding of the symbolism, this is first and foremost a parade and a celebration, and it was a lot of fun for everyone. It doesn't take a cultural lesson to enjoy the dragons, the costumes, the juggling, and the firecrackers. The elderly Japanese couple to my left was as delighted as the 8 year old Americans to my right. The "Aaahhh"s follow the "Ooohhhhhh"s again and again, as all the stops appear to have been pulled out for a parade of Chinese culture and history that is sure to put everyone in a great mood.

The parade makes its way through the main streets of Chinatown. You can secure a good place to watch by getting there 20 minutes early and standing near a large intersection, where the performers are sure to stop and put on a show. It lasts over one hour.

Chinatown can be accessed by several different stations, including Motomachi-Chukagai (Minato Mirai Line) and Ishikawacho (JR Keihin-Tohoku Line, and JR Negishi Line).

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