On November 3rd, Japan celebrates “Culture Day” as a national holiday. I thought to myself, “For a country that has been around as long as Japan, and with as much history as it has, how can you celebrate all that culture in just one day…?” Very quickly, that’s how.
I went to Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine that day, and in just this one location in Tokyo there were over a dozen cultural events taking place. Things like Kyudo (archery), Aikido (martial art), Bugaku (traditional dance), Hogaku (traditional music), Yabusame (archery from a horse), Kyogen and Noh (drama and plays), flower exhibits, and ceremonies. You could see it all…
…Unless you physically couldn’t see it. It’s a national holiday for Japan, which means that most Japanese people are off work (millions of people in fact). And it’s “culture day”, their culture, so of course Japanese people want to see all the culture events, not just tourists like myself. That makes for a large crowd….a very large crowd. I wanted to see the Yabusame (archery from atop a horse) event—apparently everyone did. I was there early enough that I was close enough to the front that I could see, but that didn’t last. Over the course of the 30 minutes that I waited, the crowd got larger and larger. As hundreds of people shifted ‘an inch here, and an inch there’….there was a complete crowd shift—that left me without a view at all. I was mad that I had waited so long in the blazing sun only to be pushed out of my vantage point, so I turned to leave saying, “screw it!”
It was then, as I turned to squeeze my way out of the crowd, that I realized that most of the people standing there couldn’t see anything. I have realized that living here, I’m often NOT the shortest person in a crowd. There was a group of little old ladies (like in their 80’s) behind me that were about a foot shorter than me! I KNOW they couldn’t see anything. Then I felt bad. I felt bad that they couldn’t see either, and they were old and would maybe never have the chance to see this again…so I stopped feeling sorry for myself and moved along.
I walked away from that mass of people towards the Meiji Shrine. Of course there were lots of people there as well, but since it is a much larger, more open space, it allowed for a less stressful opportunity to enjoy some “culture”. In the area around the shrine, I saw a beautiful wedding procession, a chrysanthemum exhibit, ikebana displays, and lots of kids, ages 7, 5, and 3, who were there for a special ceremony they take part in when they are those specific ages. The little girls wear traditional outfits (usually very brightly colored) and were so cute!
One thing I realized while trying to enjoy “Culture Day” is that crowds are unavoidable in the most densely populated city in the world. That in fact, “crowds” are a part of Tokyo culture, and if I hadn’t had to navigate amongst a crazy mass of people on the very holiday that celebrates their culture—I guess it wouldn’t have been a very accurate representation!