Fan festivals: Expect crowds, food and entertainment at matsuris
Stars and Stripes August 9, 2009
It was hot, sticky and crowded in downtown Kumagaya, but people were certainly having fun as locals and tourists like myself — and others stationed at Yokota Air Base — celebrated the annual Uchiwa Matsuri, or Fan Festival.
The festival dates back to around 1750 during the Edo period, when restaurant owners handed out red rice to customers in hopes of fending off illness. According to local legend, as the years passed, one owner decided to hand out fans. Others soon followed suit, leading to the festival’s name. And it was a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by me and many others who found the fans far more effective at cooling off than any grain of rice could.
As much of a godsend as the fans were, it was the gathering of the 12 floats — each representing a local community — in the town square that was the highlight of the festival for many.
Each float, manned by a small platoon of men, was pulled up and down the streets as drummers performed traditional Kumagaya music. The floats glided effortlessly through the streets, followed closely by the throngs of festival goers chanting and cheering.
But as with any festival in Japan, the streets and sidewalks were packed also with what seemed like an endless rows of booths with vendors selling such foods as yakitori (barbecued chicken and beef on skewers), yakisoba (fried noodles), okonomiyaki (a Japanese pancake packed with vegetables and meat or seafood).
And as if the streets needed more things clogging them up, a rock band and a Japanese song and dance troupe drew the attention of many festival goers.
Amanda Herb, an Air Force spouse and first-time attendee, likened the festival to a county fair, smiling as she watched children play games.
There was definitely something for everyone at this festival. And thank goodness for the fans.