After something of a strange precursor to the main event the previous day, it was with some trepidation that I headed back to Fukuromachi Park on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Thankfully, despite the weather, the first inoko matsuri in 17 years turned out to be one of the most enjoyable events I’ve attended in Hiroshima in quite some time. By the end my fingers were firmly crossed in the hope that this grass roots art-meets-tradition festival would become an annual happening.
When I arrived, volunteers and gathered participants were already in the process of affixing 88 ropes, each attached at one end to the surrounding 88 bamboo poles, to the 1.5 ton rock in the center of the park. After each rope was attached, it would be pulled tight so that the bamboo would take the strain. It was a long, laborious process and the rock looked so immovable, it was hard to believe that it would ever lift off the ground. But lift it did, eventually, to a round of delighted applause. Once fully suspended a few people “rode the rock” bouncing up and down holding on to the decorated bamboo shaft wedged into the top while the people pulling the ropes chanted Inoko, inoko, inoko mochi tsuite, hanjose, hanjose!
All now prepared, it was time for a break until the main festival began after dark. Some drifted away while others hung around eating food from the vendors and imbibing some pretty good Kamoizumi sake served from a towering bamboo dispenser. You chose your own sake cup and they were more than happy to fill it right to the brim – I can’t remember how much it cost, but I do remember being surprised at how cheap refills were… perhaps that’s why I can’t remember the price.
As it grew dark and the lights came on the park started to look incredible. The effect of the bamboo bowing under the weight of the rock, the light shining on the bamboo leaves and being intersected by the ropes was wonderful and the whole “structure” looked like an elaborate sculpture.
Around 6pm the music began and continued for another 2 and half hours. We were treated to a mixture of asian music played from the stage while shishimai lion dances, stern looking swordsmen, flamenco dancers and drummers paraded, performed and danced within the sculpture.
It was all highly conceptual and everything had a deep and long thought out meaning exploring the relationship between nature and man. It was, however, all completely lost on me. Not to worry, as it was all highly entertaining to watch. Between performances everyone was welcome to take a turn at rock surfing and the waves got more powerful as the night went on – that sake again!
After the giving out of small gifts to members of the audience, the finale was a dramatic countdown as, one by one, all 88 ropes were severed, until the rock was finally returned to the ground and the event came to a close.
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