The first week I arrived in Fukuoka, one of the teachers had already mentioned at our orientation about this mysterious festival called ‘Dontaku’.
“It’s one of the biggest festivals in Fukuoka, and there’s a parade every year in which some KyuDai students participate. I always go every year; it’s great fun. If you’re around during that time, you should definitely have a look.”
So I promptly forgot about Dontaku, until I began seeing ads in the subways leading up to Golden Week about this mysterious Dontaku festival.
And then one of the girls in the exchange program posted something about how we could participate in the Dontaku parade as part of the Asia-Pacific Children’s Committee or something like that, so I signed up, because what better way to see the festival and the parade than actually be in it?
But in all honesty, I had no idea what Dontaku even was during the festival, except that these massive floats were hoisted through the streets as part of the parade. But it turns out that the name Dontaku is from the Dutch word zondag, which means ‘Sunday’, or ‘a holiday’. Starting in 1179 as a New Year performance called matsubayashi , in the Edo period it evolved into a parade called torimon, where people dressed up as auspicious gods when they visited the Lord of Fukuoka Castle. The costumes were so extravagant that the Meiji government actually banned this parade, but the citizens preserved the whole thing by renaming it to dontaku.
And I got to be in this centuries old parade. And I had no idea at the time…
Because we were part of the parade, we had to learn a simple dance and perform that in traditional costumes. Most of us didn’t have traditional costumes with us, so a lot of us were just borrowing costumes from the APCC. I was lucky that one of my friends had a few spare Filipino costumes, so I could borrow that from her. I mean, even if I did have something traditional with me, it would have been a Chinese qipao, which would have been hard to move around in anyway. And what even is a traditional Australian outfit? Either the paints and cloths of an obscure Aboriginal tribe, or the stereotypical singlet, shorts and thongs made famous by the Australian version of ‘Jingle Bells’.
Anyways, it was good fun, even though the day was pouring rain on and off. When we were actually parading, it wasn’t raining so that was fortunate. And we all know that although being in the parade was fun, the actual highlight of the festival were the food stalls that lined one of the parks, because there you could eat these okonomiyaki-on-a-stick, yakiniku, chocolate bananas, karaage by the cup, takoyaki, kakikoori… A friend and I were also able to get a chuuhi each from a vendor, so we were just walking around with these alcoholic cans in our hands, which is illegal in Australia and oh so liberating feeling here.
From memory, apart from food there were other performances that were being held on smaller stages during the day, and the most memorable was one by a dance studio, where their dancers were all children below the age of 12, and there was this one dance where a whole group of them were performing, and a few of those kids were the height of my knee, but they could move so well. It makes me wish I kept up with dancing throughout the years. Makes me sad, seeing kids outdance me.