Sunday, October 6, 2013

Autumn Rice

Last night I heard loud drums, metallic percussion and chanting coming from somewhere nearby in our neighborhood.  I went outside to check out the scene and found a medium size float being dragged by children and adults, and groups of people dancing and yelling.  As I watched the scene, I saw two of my Japanese friends standing on the sidewalk observing.  I went over to them and asked them what was going on.  They said they didn't really know, just some local traditional festival sponsored by a local shrine and that these things happen a lot.  Apparently most local shrines will host a festival in the early fall for the rice harvest and this is probably one of those events.  I tried to take some pictures, but it was pretty dark.

hoisting the banners onto the float

the percussionists inside
I thought about it for a minute and realized that I could share a similar phenomenon from America, or at least Cincinnati, where Catholic churches hold summer festivals.  My friends asked what we did there.  Traditional dancing, music?  Mmmmm, no, more like carnival rides, games, and drinking and it's not really religious at all, usually just in the parking lot.  I think it's to make money for the church?  "Ahh, sooo...."

Well maybe it's a little different, but it was the closest comparison I could conjure.  I'm not sure why we don't have more harvest festivals.  I suppose there is Thanksgiving, but somehow that seems even more far removed.

In an ironic twist of timing, this morning I learned in my Japanese lesson that there is in fact kanji for America and that we are not only called America but also (and probably more commonly) Beikoku.  Well I was none the wiser.  The first sound "Bei" is denoted with the same kanji for rice.  Rice country???  I felt my lost childhood was owed a float and chanting ritual.

That would have been pretty cool and also strange given the bans and high tariffs on imported rice to Japan, so the internet gave the improved explanation that it is simply a kanji with the same sound as "Mei"  for A-mei-ri-ka.  I feel as though everyone as been talking about my country for a year without me realizing it, but now I know better.  Kaneko-san softened the blow of this news by saying that NichiBei (Japanese American) kankei (relations) are often talked about int he news and have been good since 1945.  He spoke very favorably of them.  He contrasted this with China, and said that 90% of Japanese people didn't like China and vice versa.  NichiChuu (Japanese Chinese) kankei sugoku warui desu (are very bad).  I wonder what it's like to be Kaneko-san.  I wonder what it's like to have trancelike dancing and chanting through neighborhood streets in Japan every fall, and how rice is related to all these things.  Something has to make the world go 'round.

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