19 Kakunodate: Life after samurai

Morning:  Wandered wide streets of dead samurai district.  Fresh paint on wooden walls. Felt like a guidebook section of Kyoto or Takayama.  The bullet train supplies grey tourists armed with flashy cameras and parasols.  Admittedly I am now grey-tinged too.  But I definitely do not have a parasol. 

Afternoon:  Found an Akita bijin (beauty) in the corner of a greengrocer-cafe.  She was pouring coffee behind the counter. Tall and slim, she had a face like a fresh peach. She served me a peach-flavoured ice-cream and told me to visit the festival later that evening.  

She was smart and gentle.  Her husband working alongside her appeared gruff and scruffy, although he did boast a fantastic combover.

2 tiny kids sprinted behind the counter:  “Granny! granny!!!!! Get our yukatas ready quick.  We`re late for the festival!”

Evening: The festival was a parade of lanterns carried by local children.  The lanterns were marked with the childrens` wishes.  Several lanterns displayed drawings of the new Super Komachi shinkansen which stops at Kakunodate; at 300kph it is one of the fastest bullet trains in Japan. 

Peach Grandma told me tourists flooded into the town when the bullet train first arrived 15 or so years ago.  The Shin-Komachi is a new class of shinkansen carrying high hopes.  The mayor made a short speech exhorting everybody to show omotenashi (hospitality) to visitors.  I looked around hopefully: no free chips though.

After the lantern parade, 4 local girls dressed in traditional costume danced on a mat, gracefully swaying their arms and sliding their feet.  Clutching a can of coffee, Grandad Combover cameover and gently explained: all the songs were local and the songs traditional; the girls part of a group of 300+.  Their performance was magical. 

Combover then told me about the adults playtime, the mad Butsukeai Matsuri (Knock into each other Float Festival) in early September. 72 hours of unorganised chaos when all the roads are closed and people quit their jobs if they don`t get time off.  Beauty salons are crowded as women change their hairstyle for each day.  A whole year of bragging rights is at stake as 18 districts compete against each other.

* Click here for Youtube video of Obako song (Obako means child)

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