Kanda Myojin Festival
Alex and Will Brooke
We are 13-year-old twins who have lived in Japan's bustling capital, Tokyo, for four years. We have done and seen many remarkable things in Japan. The one experience that we know we will never forget is participating in the Kanda Myojin Festival on Saturday, May 14th. We were the first foreigners, or in Japanese, gaijiin, formally invited to participate in the Kanda Myojin Festival. This festival not only peeked our curiosity about Japan's culture, but it also was a totally new experience for us. We were able to learn many things about Japan's culture by actually being a part of this festival.
Alex and Will
The Kanda Myojin Festival literally means "God Rice Field Festival." This festival is one of the three biggest festivals in Tokyo and takes place over six days, rain or shine. During the six days 90 neighborhood mikoshi (shrines) are carried through the streets of Kanda. For many years, women were not allowed to carry the shrines, because it was the duty of the neighborhood's brave and strong firefighters.
Many companies and shops are sponsors of the matsuri, such as NTT, which this year presented a float of a huge inflated dog, or in Japanese, ookii inu.
The parade begins in front of Mitsukoshi department store in Nihonbashi and travels for 30 kilometers. As the floats and mikoshi pass by peoples' homes, they pray in honor of the sacred god, whose spirit is in the mikoshi. All participants wear either a costume or a cotton hanten (light jacket). Some participants ride horses, others help carry the shrines, still others help pull the floats or dance, sing and clap.
We felt very special wearing our blue hanten and our specially blessed talismans given to us by Gon-negi Shimizu, the high priest of Kanda Myojin. We were told that our talismans would ensure our safety during the festival. As we helped pull our dolphin float, our good luck talismans rhythmically bounced against our chests.
This year's festival was filled with floats, samurai on horseback, taiko drums and numerous well-wishers shouting gambatte, you can do it! As we pulled the float, we bounced up and down in a kind of forward dance. We were excited, as we cheerfully and joyously cried out wasshoi! We were all strenuously tugging together, close friends and new friends pulling and laughing, one heart, one impetus striving toward the same goal. Our hands squeezed, knuckles blanched against the rough rope. As we moved forward, the dolphins swam closer to us.
At the beginning of the matsuri parade we felt shy because everyone was looking at us. But, we soon realized that many of the staring faces were smiling faces. Helping us to pull the dolphin float were a neighborhood group of vivacious fourth graders. Their smiles and eager questions immediately washed away our shyness.
We are so glad we were able to be part of this year's Kanda Myojin Festival. It was a great experience, one we will forever remember. Tanoshikattadesu.
~ Alex and Will Brooke ~ They are American 13-year-old twins, born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the sons of Elizabeth and Jim Brooke, American correspondents currently stationed in Tokyo for The New York Times. Alex and Will attend the American School in Japan and will be in 8th grade in September. They run cross-country and long distance for the school's track team. They play basketball and love to read.