ゆかた祭り/ Yukata Festival

It’s been ages since I posted! I’m sorry to all the people who read this blog. This past week was awfully busy, I had my midterm examination and then we shipped off to Kyoto, leaving me with absolutely no spare time. I’m in my dorm room at Doshisha University in Kyoto right now, finishing this post I started more than a week ago. There are many more updates coming soon, I’ve been taking TONS of pictures.

This past Saturday, Sunday and Monday was Himeji’s annual Yukata Matsuri (matsuri means festival), which everyone was looking forward to all last week. Most female CLSers even decided to take the dive and buy a yukata from a local shop in order to participate in the full festival experience. Yukata are summer kimonos; instead of being made out of silk they are made from light cotton. They are still worn with the traditional obi (waist belt) and geta (wooden sandals), the same way a kimono is worn, but they are meant to be more comfortable for summer heat. Some of the guys also decided to buy jinbei. Jinbei can be worn by either men or women, and I think they are really meant to be worn as housewear or clothes to wear to an onsen/sento. However, they are also an option to wear to matsuri since they are technically traditional Japanese clothing. I saw a lot of men, women, and children wearing jinbei at the matsuri, I think they must be popular because they are so much more comfortable and breathable than yukata.

Some of my friends wearing yukata and jinbei, respectively.

I bought my yukata last Wednesday because a bunch of CLS girls decided to go as a group to AEON Town, a mall nearby that has a yukata store (or more specifically a “Japanese Clothing Store”), which was having a really good sale. I got my yukata, obi and geta as a set for only 2,900円 (about $30!). Usually a yukata by itself costs more than 10,000円 ($100), not even including an obi and geta. The yukatas we bought were definitely not the highest quality ever, but as our first yukatas, I feel like they were a steal. I also think the store was pretty happy because they sold 10 of them in less than two hours.

After buying it, I spent the remainder of Wednesday night learning how to put it on! It’s not very straightforward! The obi, in particular, is very difficult to tie on one’s self. I consulted youtube and after watching several videos multiple times over, I figured it out. Good thing I did, because come Sunday, I was the only 1 of 2 CLS students who actually knew how to put it on! I ended up helping some of my friends put on their yukata.

Putting on a yukata really isn’t easy. We’re lucky we had some of our buddies to help us put them on and tie our obi. The buddies even helped some people do their hair, as it’s traditional to wear an up-do for these sorts of festivals. Unfortunately my hair is very short so I can’t really do an up-do, but I did manage to get a flower pin to add a little extra something 🙂

By the time we reached the train station, I started to understand how many people actually show up for this thing. It was overcrowded. The festival areas include the main street that leads from the train station to Himeji Castle, and the main festival area is a large open park-area in front of the castle grounds. It was massive! My buddy told me that people from all over Kansai show up for the yukata matsuri in Himeji. Himeji is usually a pretty quiet place, so I was a bit overwhelmed. Truly not what I had imagined in my head, but it was amazing.

The streets were filled with food stands, as well as stands offering games, most of which are chance-related games rather than “prove your strength/aim” types of games I’m used to seeing at carnivals in the U.S.

There were tons of cute character goods that I would have loved to buy, but playing the games was very expensive. Playing a single game was between 500円~800円, which is pretty steep considering it’s a chance game and there’s no way to control what prize you get (prized ranged from tiny keychains to huge stuffed animals). I asked my buddying, Yuka, why people still play the games even though they’re so pricey, and she said it’s just “Matsuri Magic” – people get swept up in the excitement and don’t even care how much things cost. The atmosphere really was very exciting, especially after the sun went down.

I really loved how colorful and bright everything at the festival was. The way Japanese festival stands look is really distinct in comparison to the aesthetic of American carnivals. In America stands rely on having flashing lights and neon signs, but at the yukata matsuri there were a lot of bright colors and traditional Japanese hanging lanterns instead. The smell of the various carnival foods was more than enough to draw people in!

Yakiniku, takoyaki, kyuuri, kakigori, my friends eating fried sweet potatoes and me eating my Okonomiyaki!

Something I thought was really interesting was that other than food and games, they also had two obakeyashiki (お化け屋敷), which are like haunted houses, but with ghosts and ghouls from traditional Japanese folklore. If you don’t know anything about Japanese obake, it’s a really interesting history to read about!

The yukata matsuri was truly a fun experience. I had never been to a matsuri before and it was cool to see everyone all dressed up in yukata and enjoying traditional foods and games. Everyone from small children to elderly people seemed really excited about it – it’s clearly a strong Japanese tradition that people look forward to all year. I really hope I have the chance to attend more matsuri in the future – I think there is one going on in Kyoto this month, so if I have any time at all, I want to try to go.

Here are some more miscellaneous pictures.

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