Jade’s Escape from Japan: Creasing Happi Coats

jadesescapefromjapan-happi

Creasing Happi Coats

Blue, red, and white happi coats moved through the crowd with “festival ” splashed across their backs and brown printed belts cinching their waists. The bodies inside them sweated and smelled, and the heads perched on the shoulders and necks held smiling faces, yakisoba in their mouths, bandannas around their foreheads. As people walked through Naha City awaiting the start of the big tug of war, their happi coats showed that the festival atmosphere started at home. When the rope, which stretched for three blocks through Naha’s 58 street, was pulled by Okinawans and Americans and cut into strips as good luck charms, the happi coats, the festival bearers, came off at home. Once laundered and pressed, the happi coats must be folded.

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I folded happi coats after an event in Los Angeles. One fold here, a flip there, but the creases were the most important part. I wanted to fold them to be stacked the same length and size. When I tried to fold a happi coat without using its preset crease–“let the coat fall over at the crease”–I was inferred, not so much told since that would be too forward, to follow the folding method as everyone else had done before. The precedence was more important than the practical and stackable look of those coats, the same crease blindly to set a path than the person who wore or folded them.

Creases are made when a fabric submits to an iron, and the iron can make creases anywhere the person handling it feels. Why do some people hold the iron or fold past the creases to make a new pattern? Why not make changes instead of submitting to the creases everyone else has made?

While happi coats on bodies are uniforms for festivals and tugs of wars, their creases are traps for those who don’t want to be uniform.

Yaese Town Cherry Blossoms Festival 八重瀬町桜まつり

Image Hanami, or cherry blossoms viewing, is usually seen throughout Japan in March and April. This year, in Okinawa, the cherry blossoms have bloomed early–but their flowers aren’t as bright as the years before. It’s OK, though. Many festivals in honor of these beautiful, pink flowers have cropped up just as early as the cherry blossoms’ blooming. One festival that my husband and I went to was the Yaese Town Cherry Blossoms Festival. 

We arrived in the latter part of the event, but we didn’t miss out on the festivities. After walking up a long hill overlooking Yaese Town and climbing multitudes of stairs (and a kind grandmother commenting loudly, “Mada?” when we encountered another set of stairs), we finally reached the top of the small mountain. The smell of corn dogs, yakisoba (sauteed noodles), and french fries filled the air as music by a local J-rock group sounded from a big stage flanked with large sakura poles. 

One thing about festivals that I absolutely love is the festival food. Fatty, greasy, and cheap, festival food can range from traditional Japanese food (sobaramen, takoyaki) to Western food (tacos, hamburgers, chicken nuggets). This time, there were a few vendors selling cheap vegetables, homemade cookies, and chicken pies. 

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Aside from the food, the Yaese Town festival had a treat for everyone: a tug-of-war contest. The rope was as thick as my body! It took over twenty people to carry one side of the rope in traditional fashion around the festival grounds. After some (quiet) taunting from both sides, we grabbed the ropes and pulled. It was a hard fight, but the other side managed to pull us over the line. The second time was fruitful: we won in less than five minutes. 

We dusted ourselves off, carried the rope again, and then disappeared down the stairs to the cave. It was once used as a medical center for the Okinawans during World War II, and still stands as a historical reminder to all. Many of the elementary school students asked us as we exited the cave area, “Do your pictures have ghosts in them?”

I don’t know if this counts as a ghost; there’s a small circle to the right of my husband. Just so you know, there wasn’t a light inside the cave. We checked.Image