Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hojoya: Carnies come to Fukuoka!

This week Hakozaki Shrine has been packed with hundreds of thousands of people visiting the Hojoya festival. Its a pretty old festival that commemorates....something. Probably. I don't know actually.

Anyway, the festival is most well known for these delicate glass ornaments hand-blown and painted by artisans at the shrine which they sell for between 3,000 and 9,000 yen each. They have a special religious significance and all people who purchase them must devote themselves to a rather long ritual that involves storing them on a shelf somewhere in their home and, being completely at a loss to find anything useful to do with them, forgetting about their existence until several years later when they inevitably get broken during a move.

We decided not to purchase one.

Anyway, they put some interesting stuff on display at the shrine during the festival and open up bits that usually are closed to the public. Like these pictures:
And these Mikoshi:
And these masks:
And a bunch of other stuff that people don't really come to a festival to see but look at anyway because everything else is too crowded.

We had a bit of excitement in the shrine as we got on TV! Cable TV! Which we....don't get. But it was fun anyway. A nice reporter asked us to stand in front of their camera and give a thank you message to someone. I chose my parents. We did two takes, I was pretty nervous about my Japanese but with Ena's help I got through it. Because we couldn't see it on TV I asked the reporter to take our picture in front of their microphone just to prove that we were there:
Anyway, that was the shrine part of the festival. After that we went to see the real attraction: Japanese Carnies!!!
When I use the word "Carnies" I have the spirit of the Austin Powers definition in mind:

"Carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands."

Carnies have an interesting existence in Japan. They travel the length and breadth of the country (well, mostly the length, Japan is short on breadth) with whatever they sell or do in the back of their trucks and go from one festival to the other year-round. They are a mysterious people to the outsider like myself, living in a colorful world surrounded by gangsters, cheap gimmicks and ridiculously inflated prices. If ever there was a people whose lifestyle demanded a reality-TV show based on their lives, it is these folks.

Between Hakozaki Shrine and Route 3 there is a tree-lined avenue normally closed to vehicles that stretches for about a kilometre or so. Technically it is part of the shrine and during the Hojoya it is over-run by a massive herd of carnies who set up their stalls ("yatai") to ply their wares to the hundreds of thousands of visitors that come. This is one end of the avenue, from the Route 3 side with the giant tori gate:
And on the opposite end, from the shrine itself. The giant tori gate is so far off on the horizon you can't even see it:
Between these two points is Carny territory during the Hojoya. They provide all the fun bits of the festival experience that are what people REALLY come to see.
A lot of the more colorful (and photogenic) ones cater to kids. Like this one with Kamen Rider masks:
Or this one with girl's toys. Ena said she used to really like these when she was little:
Or this one selling something called "Character Pipes":
And flutes:
Looking for some surprisingly-realistic looking toy guns? This is your place:
A lot of the other yatai were games. Like this one where you try to catch balls floating in water:
Or you could try your hand with the giant vat of goldfish:
I'm not really a fan of the above type games. About 8 years ago at a similar festival in Himeji I tried one of these where the object was to scoop up a little turtle with this wafer-thin paper cup that would disintegrate virtually the second it came into contact with the water. I paid my 300 yen, confident that I had worked out a way to get the turtle succesfully out of the water and into the pail in the millisecond I had before the paper cup evaporated, dropping the turtle back into the water. And sure enough it worked! I got the turtle into the pail! I got to keep the turtle! Ena and all my friends with me were laughing and patting me on the back for a job well done when suddenly the guy running the thing yelled "Dame!" ("no good"), grabbed my pale and dumped the turtle back into the tank of water.

Incensed I demanded an explanation. "Your wrist was at the wrong angle. You had to keep it straight" he replied in the gruff voice of a man clearly making up the rules as he went along.

Suffice it to say I did not get my turtle. You may take the fact that 8 years later I am writing about the experience in a still-indignant tone as some indication of how pissed off I was at the time.

Anyway, I digress. Ena and I decided to pump some money into the economy by buying lunch at a falafal (how the hell do you spell that correctly?) yatai:
We then went to the main entertainment area where all the big games and attractions were.

The haunted houses looked pretty cool:
An old woman with a microphone exhorted the children to test their bravery at the hands of the ghosts and demons located up the ramp only 500 yen away. Two other staff, also old women, sat indifferently behind her with the distinct look of people who had other things they wanted to be doing:

Looking at the quality of the rides whose level of excitement could be gauged from direct observation, we opted to give the haunted houses a miss:
We worried that we would be committing some sort of faux-pas if we didn't throw money away at at least one of these places, so we decided to try our hand at one of the places where you throw darts at balloons:
Take THAT you stupid, yellow licensed character I see everywhere I go in this bloody country:
Ena also gave it a try:
We had 5 darts and missed with the first 4. It was down to me. I took careful aim and....POP! I got one! Excitedly I waited to be presented with one of the giant toys that bedecked every square inch of the stall not directly in the line of dart-throwing fire. Disappointingly he reached into a bucket out of sight under the counter and gave us two sticks that, he had to assure us as it was broad daylight, would glow in the dark:
Well, it was way better than that turtle yatai in Himeji 8 years ago.

After that we got some ice cream:
And wandered around some more of the yatai:
For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, in the only quiet part of the festival area a number of pottery dealers had set up shop:
I suspect they were there to give parents a sanctuary while the kids had fun.

After that we went home, as the rain was starting to come down. It was a fun day. A couple days later I snapped some photos of the festival in the dark as I passed by on my way home from downtown:

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