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Hc : : Akita: Yokote: Bonden
Bonden: Pageant | About Town | Rush

Itoi showed up at 8 in the morning where I had slept above the Korean restaurant, under a heated table, and took me to the office of his propane gas company. There I was handed a red and white rope to tie around my head, and a thin cotton over-jacket called a Hanten, dark blue, and quite traditional looking except on the back, in place of the usual family crest or ancient Kanji character, there was the bubbles logo for the propane gas company.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
With Itoi-san in the morning

With the members of the company similarly arrayed, Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
we posed for photos in front of a rider astride a horse, at the end of a four or five meter pole. This is our Bonden, number 14, built by the men of Tapurosu.

We march from the office towards city hall, passing other Bonden bearers along the way. I have been handed a large conch shell by Itoi-san; it is my job to figure out how to blow it and blow it throughout the day. I never could get the trumpet well, not like GK, but I did finally figure out how to work my lips on the thing, much like a digeridoo. So I blew.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!

The mechanic horse Bonden is laid down in front of a drug store where members of that team stopped to buy energy drinks and collect a donation to their Bonden team.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Yamanaka Shitoshi with his megaphone, just before or just after singing the Bonden song.

On the street in front of city hall, a cavalcade of Bonden bearers were setting up their decorated religious rods and tourists were beginning to gather in the morning. Flanking the street, the Bonden were mostly great efforts, highly detailed dioramas built to be hoisted high above the street and carried around ruggedly. There were grinning demons and politicians and men astride horses. This would seem to be some sort of a holdover from when Japan adhered to a lunar calendar, seeing as how this festival nearly meets the date of the Chinese New Year, and it's the year of the horse for the Chinese, and there were many equestrian Bonden.

I wandered between these Bonden admired them and I was in turn admired by people who seemed amazed to watch a blond white boy arrayed for Bonden work and carrying a big horn. And prepared to use it! I occasionally practiced in public and I was invariably asked to pause and blow again for the benefit of hastily gathering photographers, mostly middle aged Japanese people who seemed to be amateurs with very large lenses.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Encouraging the next generation of noisemakers.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Blowing for a camera, blowing for the lord.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Impromptu party moment.

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I chatted with these kids, they gave me mochi and today we posed for a picture.

Between the spectacle of the foreigner and the spectacle of the standing constructed penis surrogates, young Japanese were drinking and proving their strength. One by one, they worked to hoist their pole aloft and hold it there by themselves. Some couldn't manage and their Bonden fell fast. Later I saw the largest man from our group grab the Bonden pole and hold it aloft with one hand. No one else from our group bothered to try it after him.

After some time wandering the parade was set to start and so the men behind number 14 were working to hoist and carry their rod-riding rider up in front of the judges platform. For while the roots of this celebration may be with honoring the gods, men must judge who has best honored the gods. I blew all the way through. Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - The Mosh Pit of the Gods
And I was amazed by the men I was with; some were thick with big hands, hoisting this thick pole and handedly affording the rider safe passage. Some were scrawny and working to serve in the same capacity. And all managed to appear as though they were wearing their pajamas.

But not nearly as pajamaed as some of the other menfolk; full body yellow baggy linens. Drunk men in their pajamas parading phalluses in front of city hall.

I passed some of these men with an open keg of sake. They ladelled me some into a small wooden box built for drinking. I played my horn and they took turns trying their lips on it. Having some minor facility for making a single solid note with this natural instrument won me some praise and free booze. One man showed me I should lubricate the conch shell with sake to make a cleaner sound. Some for me, some for the conch became my policy.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Hornblower is served some sake

The open keg men had some dried flat smoked cuttlefish squid that I see often here and I don't think I'd seen before in my life. A man from another group came over with some sort of hand-held aerosol flame instrument and broiled this fish jerky as we watched.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Scorching Cuttlefish

The judging was announced later. I stood with Itoi-san near the stage. After first and second place were granted to others, he seemed doubtful we would win. But there were many third place winners, and we were one of them. The prize was a large trophy, two certificates and a mess of sake.

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Cake-Tossing

Just as I thought I might have seen the outer limit of surprising Japanese anti-efficiency, Itoi-san grabbed me and rushed me to the front, where a battle was set to take place. Tapurosu gas was throwing mochi, rice cakes into the crowd.

It was unrestrained human desire the likes of which I had never before witnessed. The only similar thing I can imagine would be people lining up at computer trade shows to work for free promotional goods. But in that case people are mostly lined up and asked to divulge personal information to facilitate later harassment. The most excitement comes when there is a t-shirt toss and people call out and yearn greatly and audibly.

In this case these were small rice cakes, the likes of which you can find throughout Japan. Rice cakes and candy snacks. And they were being tossed in great quantities. And people were surging and screaming and moaning and even daring to bum-rush the stage for some rice cakes.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!

As Tapurosu was first to toss food, we were witness to the first emergent behaviours. People thronged against the stage begging for rice cakes, and when that didn't yield much, some resorted to wielding sharp elbows, grabbing for rice cakes. And when we the tossing was mostly over, an old lady bent and at least eighty scrambled up on stage to have a first hand grab for the remaining treats. How do you tell Grandma to step off the bum-rush?

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!

After Tapurosu was done and other Bonden bearers took to throwing treats, I heard a regular stream of pleas from the young man who was the voice for the event, calling for people to please keep off of the stage.

We were at the other end of the street, preparing to collect our cash from this city.

Bonden: Pageant | About Town | Rush

A few of the decorated Bonden:

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Tapurosu's mounted bowmen warrior of some fame and a forgotten name.

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
The horse's eyes rotated crazy style!

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Something political? About the World Cup?

Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!
Japan, Akita, Yokote Bonden Festival - Oh the Pageantry!

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