When I was a kid, I loved going to the fair. There were expensive games I would fail at instantly, toys my parents wouldn’t let me have, and all the cake and sweets I could scrounge before the head-rush kicked in and I started crying. Fairs are above even Christmas on the scale of things-children-think-they-like-until-they-actually-experience-them (second only to the dreaded Toys R’ Us – trust me, I used to work there).
For all the glucose crash induced misery of the fair, these events made me excited in a way that very little has the capacity to do in adult life, and I miss it. There was just such an atmosphere of fun and celebration. After the age of about 7 I don’t think anyone is that bothered to know they can have all the coke they want for a day unless they’re OK with breaking the law. And who even remembers how to play Tombola? You probably throw coconuts at quoits or something. I dunno.
It seems that the English fair was dying a death long before I was born, and as my smug twenty-something year old housemates keeps reminding me, I’m, like, really old. By the time I was in junior school I had already started to see any fair, fete or similar community activity as a waste of an afternoon. I’m not entirely sure how it came about, but it just seemed like once you got to a certain age, everyone knew that fairs were lame. Right?
Then I went to Japan.
When I was in Japan, I came to appreciate that there are a number of things we Brits do very well that I had never appreciated before – like real ale, and pies, and ironic understatement. But there are also a number of things that we are crap at to what suddenly appeared to be an unnecessary degree. And one of the chief among these was festivals.
In Japan there are SOOOOOO many festivals. There are national festival days, like New Year, where stalls with festival food spring up all around the temple districts in town and everyone goes out to browse among the stalls. There are dance festivals where people dress up in special costume and pretend to be serpent monsters or gods. Then there’s Hiroshima’s very own Toukasan, where pretty much half the population of the city packs into the streets wearing yukata and jinbei (Japanese traditional clothing). And everyone drinks beer and sake and has a massive street party. It. Is. Awesome.
If you tell the average English person about great foreign festivals, they’re generally all, “Cool! I wish I could go!” But try to get the English to go to an English fair WHICH IS EXACTLY THE SAME THING and they’ll snort derisively because everyone knows that fairs are lame, right? All that Morris dancing and singing songs with words like “nonny” in them. What a fucking joke. Aside from Christmas and New Year, we just really don’t want to know.
That’s a festival season lasting less than 2 weeks of the year. And that’s it – that’s the only time we’re willing to really come together en masse and celebrate as a whole community. Off the top of my head I can think of large scale festive occasions in Japan in every season of the year.
My point is, I wish we could just take a look around us and see what we’ve got. This country is beautiful in the summer, even more so in autumn (in my humble opinion), and what better way to mark the passage into spring than a great big party everyone in town gets up for? I’d love to see the nonchalance of the last 30 years fade away as new traditions come in to replace the ones we’ve nearly lost – even if it’s a bloody Royal Wedding party.
In the meantime – well, tomorrow I’m off to London. The blossoms have just begun to fall from the trees – it’s the season for Japanese blossom viewing festival, Hanami. I’m gonna sit under a tree and soak myself in petals and cheap sake. It’s not Japan, but then the only place I’ve ever been where the blossoms are even more beautiful than Hiroshima is England – so why not? Maybe it’ll even catch on.