You can’t imagine visiting Japan without experiencing a matsuri, one of those frequent traditional festivals that punctuate Japanese life throughout the year. Don’t imagine that you’ll only find them in hidden corners; matsuri take place all over the archipelago, from the smallest village to the capital city. They are part of the Japanese soul, and no-one misses an opportunity to arrange or go to one. Most matsuri are connected to a particular date in the religious calendar. Rice transplanting in spring is celebrated on Oshima Island, Ehime Prefecture, with a sumo fight that takes place between a wrestler and a man dressed as a local deity after a Shinto monk has blessed the rice fields. In summer many festivals are related to rituals warding against epidemics and natural disasters, or asking the gods to protect fishermen and ensure they have large catches. In autumn matsuri are organized to thank the gods for good harvests and in winter these celebrations bring people together and invigorate community life. On the Oga Peninsula in the northwest of the country December the 31st marks the Festival of Monsters, who visit the children to tell them to behave and obey their parents. You may think that we have, or used to have, similar events in Europe. Harvest festivals, for example, are commonplace, but they are far less widespread than in Japan, where matsuri are still very much alive. These events are far more than just religious celebrations. They are intimately related to the locality and its history, with which Japanese people maintain a unique relationship. Matsuri perpetuate the idea of “kokyo” (lit: native land), that is still strong even in the big cities and, furthermore, festivals are synonymous with Japan. Contrary to popular belief the Japanese love to have fun and matsuri are a favourite way of doing so. The carnival atmosphere that rules these festivals, with yakisoba (stir fried noodles) and takoyaki (octopus fritters) stands and other dishes to eat on the go, is a reminder that it’s all about a universally simple and popular way to get together. This is what we want to share with you in this issue.
Photo: Jérémie Souteyrat