There is one event that overshadows all others in the city of Hamamatsu, and that is Hamamatsu Matsuri. Preparation for the event, which is in May, begins in February,
The festival honors the birth of newly born babies. Enormous kites, some bigger than the average Japanese living room, are raised up high into the air. The kites bear the names of the new babies of the area and are flown by the entire town. Most spectacular is when the mom, dad, and baby are all hoisted up onto the shoulders of the town and fly the kite themselves. The whole town cheers them on and wishes them good luck and strength in their new life. It really is incredible to see the face of a smiling baby raised up in the air holding the rope to its own gigantic kite.
The city is divided into small blocks, which each have their own unique kite design. There is a very strong sense of solidarity within each block. Pictured above is 山手（yamaté), the block of the friends I was visiting.
The festivities go on for three days. Like all matsuri in Japan, what one participates in is an experience that transcends logic and reason. Some matsuri are more dangerous than others (see previous posts of Hase Matsuri and Naked Man Festival….), and one would think that a festival where one flies kites in the air would be pretty safe, but even here there was chaos at times. The kites are enourmous and can really slam down onto the earth at high speeds when descending. One woman told me causally that a man’s skull was impaled by the sharp bamboo spine of one of the kites a few years back.
The kites are flown all day during the hours of sunlight, and when the sun sets everyone goes back to their own neighborhoods and parades around the streets for hours with bugles and candlelit paper lanterns. The town makes its way around the entire neighborhood to the house of each newborn baby. The families greet the group from their doorstep, and everyone cheers, wishing them good luck and prosperity in life. Snacks like sushi and chicken skewers are brought out on huge platters, and entire barrels of saké are cracked open and drunk from huge salad-bowl-sized dishes.
The togetherness of society here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the west. I really think that matsuri (festivals) are what oxygenates the lifeblood of the Japanese spirit. Younger generations may feel otherwise, and indeed many city children have no interest in taking part in such local events. What these festivals do though is create situations of togetherness that aren’t experienced anymore in any other way with our new domesticated lifestyles behind clean clothes and computer screens. There is no need for a reason why, the healthy smiles of the people living in these towns speak for themselves.