Natsu da!

Every summer, each public daycare in Tsukuba organizes a quaint activity called “natsu matsuri,” which means “summer festival.” Summer in Japan is marked by festivities of this type, celebrated with much pomp and fervor in practically every city and prefecture. Tsukuba’s version of natsu matsuri is held around the first week of September, with intricately designed lighted floats made of paper called “nebuta.” The public daycares hold natsu matsuri as an imitation of these summer festivals – albeit on a “kiddie scale.”

At the Takezono daycare, this year’s natsu matsuri was held last Friday, July 14. It truly was like a kids’ version of the traditional matsuri. Actually this is really the first time for me to attend the matsuri. Last year we missed this activity because we were in Singapore. The year before that, Aya was still in the 1-year old class and did not really get to participate.

Parents were advised to clothe their children with yukata (a Japanese kimono traditionally worn in summer) or happi (a robe worn by livery workers), all in the spirit of celebrating the matsuri. I didn’t want to mess with the yukata (although Aya has one) because I thought it would be too cumbersome to make her wear it. Initially I didn’t know what a “happi” was all about. I did a search on google and found my answer. I went to Akachan honpo (a children’s store nearby) and was surprised to find “happi” robes of various colors and sizes. I found one which is right for her size. It was kind of pricey (about 1300 yen, or 10$), but it would also make a nice piece of souvenir!

Unfortunately, although it was sunny and bright in the morning, right about the time when the matsuri started, it began raining heavily so the principal decided to hold the activity inside the building. What a bummer! I could see the disappointment on the children’s and parents’ faces. Anyway, the children still had their fun dancing, strutting their stuff, banging on the taiko drums and buying from the o-mise (stores).

My impressions? Honestly, I’ve never been amused by matsuris, except probably for the expensive floats and fireworks. But at the daycare’s matsuri, I saw the parents and even grandparents of almost every Japanese child taking pictures and videos of the whole event, as if it was like a grand occasion such as a wedding. As the children passed by with their floats, they waved frantically to their smiling parents, as if to say, “Hey, look at me! I’m in the parade!” I had to remember that this activity was planned with Japanese children in mind. I imagine that this is like a cultural immersion for them. And for us non-Japanese, too!

Aya, on the other hand, loved it. Like the other children, she waved frantically at me and gave me the biggest smile as she strutted in the parade with her class. She shouted “Wasshoi!” as fervently as her classmates did as they were strutting around with their omikoshi. All the children were given tickets to purchase (for free) some goodies at the stores. I made her buy her own frankfurt, bread, juice, and yo-yo omocha (toy). In two years she would be banging on the taiko drums – just imagine that! Now that’s amusing. I am watching my child grow in a different culture, an entirely different environment from the one I grew up in. I’m practically experiencing those things like a first-timer myself, just like Aya does.

Needless to say, the children at the daycare loved it. There were shouts and shrieks of laughter – signs that they thoroughly enjoyed their day. From what I heard, the children designed and worked together on their floats themselves.

Kids – truly it’s their world, we’re only in it.

Here’s Aya wearing the happi.
Omikoshi. The children chanted, “Wasshoi!” alternating with their sensei’s whistles.
Pabili po ng frankfurt! By the way, the kanji character on Aya’s happi – 祭 – means matsuri, or festival.
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