May equals festival time in Japan. You could feel the energy in the air. My friend Midori wanted to take me to the famous Sanja Festival. Three days of people toting over a hundred miniature Shinto shrines around Asakusa eating and drinking like crazy? Sign me up!
We rode the packed train to Asakusa to catch the last day of the festival. I should have been prepared for the crowds, but as we were pushed through the throngs of people, it was hard to catch our breath. We hustled towards Asakusa Jingu Shrine. Midori and I held hands to keep from being separated.
Then she pulled me aside and yelled, “Let’s skip the temple and head over to the plaza. It won’t be so crowded and we can get a better view of the shrines.”
We fought for a place along the street so I could get some good pictures. I heard the sound of loud clapping and then a whistle blowing. Midori pushed me closer to the street. “They’re coming. Get ready.”
I held my camera high. A golden phoenix bounced up and down as a large group of men dressed in happi coats hoisted the shrine to the rhythm of a whistle. I couldn’t help but notice that men were missing an important part of their costume. I turned to Midori. “Um… why are the men not wearing pants?”
She laughed. “Its tradition. Today the happi are longer. They used to be short enough to see the men’s loin cloths.”
I pointed to a guy whose briefs were clearly visible. “Guess that guy is old fashioned. Have to say his underwear certainly doesn’t leave much to the imagination.”
Midori ignored me and motioned up the street. “Look, geisha.”
I was happy for a pleasant distraction. The geisha were dressed in brightly colored kimonos and wore sky-high geta, a tall platform sandal. They had their hair piled high on their heads making them even taller. The geisha with their white painted faces looked like beautiful ghosts as they gracefully floated down the street.
I whispered in Midori’s ear, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing. When I read about geisha, they seemed like a mythological creature.”
She nodded. “They are reserved and mysterious. Yet so beautiful.”
A team of loud Taiko drummers broke the mood. Midori steered me past a cluster of men dressed like Samurai. “The next one is coming.”
I could hear the whistle blowing its distinct rhythm. The next shrine had bright colored paper streamers and was carried by women. Midori beamed. “Ladies are strong so we carry the shrines too.”
I gave her a crooked smile. “I guess the temple is an equal opportunity employer.”
She didn’t laugh. Instead she pointed to one of the girls in the middle of the pack.
I couldn’t believe what I saw. “Hey, she’s on a cell phone. What do you think she’s talking about? How heavy the damn shrine is?”
Midori stuffed back a laugh. “No. She’s probably calling in their pizza order.”