Monday, July 28, 2014

Omatsuri! Being part of the local community

I love having a shop in Higashi Azabu! So close to the centre of things with Azabu Juban and Roppongi close by, but tucked away in quiet backstreets that have new discoveries round each corner and which are home to quite a villagey atmosphere.

There are various circles of community structure in Tokyo, from the 区 / ku / ward-level organizations, to the 町会 / cho kai / town committee groups. 'Cho' are often just a few blocks of buildings in a region of a ward (confused yet..? :) For example, our Higashi Azabu 2-cho me, is in greater Higashi Azabu, which is itself in Minato ward).

Some 'cho' have official community groups that some residents pay a small fee to be part of, and who organise things like local festivals, volunteer activities and various other smaller-scale activities. There are also often local women's groups / 婦人会 / fujinkai (literally translates as something like "housewife group") that can have a great deal to do with the cho kai and their activities. These feel a little like the British WI groups, but without the emphasis on jam and baking.

Pitching-in at a recent matsuri :)

Of course, there are also areas that have no such community groups, and being involved with them is voluntary. When I moved into my premises I had no idea that such things existed and remained ignorant until it came time for the local festival.

Wrapping yaki soba for the festival

I helped out packing up yaki soba with the other local ladies on the morning of the festival, as a way to meet other neighbours and make some friends. I also gave a small donation to the event which resulted in the next surprise - my name and that of MonCre on the wall outside the festival desk in beautiful script. Can you spot us? :)

The festival itself was a hot, busy and fun day. This kind of festival has a few stalls like the larger events you may have been to, but the food was given free of charge (you just pick up coloured tokens at the festival desk) to the people who come, rather than being sold. There is a kids', and later on an adults' 御神輿 / omikoshi /  - the carrying of a heavy, ornate portable shrine around the area and up to the local shrine and back. Being Higashi Azabu we went right past the foot of Tokyo tower, pretty impressive!

It's amazing to me to find such a local and community spirit in the heart of Tokyo - and something I hadn't known about this area before I chose my spot to set up shop. Everyone knows each other and looks out for each other, and they look out for me too! - Seeing I was low on 100 yen coins one open bakery day, one kind lady went back to her shop and came back with a bag full for me. Since the shop has had a few days with long queues following my (very brief) debut on NHK, there has been quite a buzz among the neighbours about the area becoming more lively, I'm glad they are excited too. :) Another special thing about this particular location is that they hold a children's festival for Halloween! Something to look forward to later in the year.

Anyway this is just a quick post, as I thought other people might like to know such things as cho kai and fujin kai exist, so you can actively seek to join in or avoid their activities as necessary, according to your fancy.

Aww, kids' omikoshi :)

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