Golden Week Part Two   1 comment

It’s the third day of Golden Week, and I’m in the middle of a crowd of people, all chanting and soaked from running up and down all day in the rain. Their voices are brittle screams. Two days ago, the Golden week felt very normal and organized, more tradition than crazy, but now the real side of the event was rearing its head.

It was raining, which normally kills things like parades out west, but here, it didn’t matter. The scattered groups I had observed the night before marching and chanting had doubled. Dozens of men and women in Happis ran around, chanting and drinking. It was a smorgasbord of excess. If they groups weren’t chanting, they were sitting on the sidewalk, wolfing down Japanese snacks, or sipping on Sake until they got up again.
As a foreigner, I feel completely out of place. So far my days have been quiet and somewhat lonely, and this sudden eruption of outgoing Japanese before makes me smirk more than anything. I’m riding my bike through the city, cursing myself that I didn’t bring my camera. Even though there is a slight drizzle, I always forget my semi-waterproof camera bag.
I stop near a group of people sitting on a sidewalk.
One person, a young man, catches my eye. He runs over to me. “Yo issho! Yo issho!“(together! together!) he shouts. Within second, a group of twenty young men are around me, chanting the same words. One pulls out a two litre bottle of sake. I drink almost half the bottle, while their chants float into the nighttime air and I get pats on the back.
“I’m Marcus.” I say in Japanese. “This is my first Golden Week.”
I’ve only heard snippets of things about Golden week through the grapevine–the ten of thousands of drunk people, none stop parties and all out madness–but experiencing it first hand was interesting.
Golden Week is a collection of Japanese holidays bundled at the start of May. People celebrate different things. Some celebrate the birth of their first child, others simply enjoy the time honoured tradition of getting completely drunk with a thousand of your closet friend in public view. For some Japanese people, these three days are their only holidays for the entire year, so they make it count.
The festival is more that just people getting drunk. Entire villages of people coordinate routes to run and chant through the city, while task masters make sure people don’t’ get too drunk and left behind. Shouting “Yaisho!” revitalizes the group and keeps the party going… for four days. In the morning you can hear the whistles and trumpets from somewhere in the city, accompanied by dozens of footfalls.
On the second day, I went to a street party. Darryl is a friend of mine who teaches English in Hamamatsu. His friend is celebrating the birth of his son. Here I was pulled in as the meek foreigner. A large Japanese man with a broad chest and  bright smile pulled me into a raging group of men shouting. I got into it, shouting myself and jogging rapidly. Behind me, was a platform with a large tub of Sake. As people chanted, young men would drink constantly from the tub. To see people so actively celebrating the birth of their friends son, as well as their own livelihood and happiness was  touching. A man came onto the podium. He was short, with bright eyes and had a warm smile. I could tell he was the father. People screamed louder and as he drank from a wooden cup that looked like a large spoon, then all the Sake was thrown on him.


Yo issho indeed.
I also saw a few girls I knew from my program. They were three English girls and two Aussies. As thrilling as running with the crowd minutes before had been, I started feeling cold and alone as I watched the bodies walk off in the distance, chanting under a blanket of raindrops. I walked with the English girls for a little while, following the group. Two adventurous Japanese guys were trying to talk to them the whole time, and I eventually rode away, heading to another part of the city.

The spectacle is amazing, people pulling carriages with ropes, and the carriages lit by lamps, glowing in the nighttime.

However, my chest felt tight and I felt bad. There I was, in a town were everyone was happy and celebrating, and I felt like the odd man out. I couldn’t be sure if it was simply culture shock, or the fallout of bad relationships, or an uncertainty about my near future. With my shirt sticking to my skin and the sound of whistles and voices blasting my ears, I rode around on my bike, in no particular direction.
I got many free beers, and once or twice I chanted Yo isssho! with a few people. I tried to imagine myself in their eyes, with my dark skin and curly hair, my height and my different features. What was me saying Yo issho! To them? It must have been bizarre. I wished in that moment I could have experienced a catharsis, with tears running down my eyes, masked by the rain as I lost myself in the tradition.
But that didn’t happen.
When I was tired and a little buzzed, I rode back home. It was chilly and I was looking forward to hop into my warm bed. As I neared my apartment, I heard whistles and trumpets. The reflection of a very bright light illuminated the street, and I heard voices chanting. People near my apartment are shouting and celebrating with the gusto of men going to war. A large light had been erected only a few feet from my apartment, and close to the light were about three hundred people.

A man barked commands into a loudspeaker, then the whistling began and the shouting. Girls barely able to walk held on to each other, their Happies so large they look like hand-me-downs. I stood on the corner of the street, feeling quite challenged. Could I run into the group, start chanting and meet everyone in my neighbourhood? Or would they see me coming and stop everything, making me feel ridiculous. In that moment I felt far, far, away from everything I knew. As the people chanted and reveled, none of them looked at me.
I sighed, and went into my apartment, falling asleep with the sound of Yo issho in my ears.

One response to “Golden Week Part Two

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  1. noooooo! you should have gone for it! also, golden week never sounds this wild in manga lol

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